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In the garden with Xanthe Gladstone

“I remember so vividly going out to our vegetable plot where I grew up in Scotland and eating carrots that we had just pulled out of the ground. I remember the taste so well, that sweet taste of a carrot that tastes like a completely different vegetable to the ones you buy in a supermarket ... Our vegetable garden didn’t last long because it was ravaged by deer and rabbits ... but it influenced the direction I decided to take my career.”

A few years later, Xanthe Gladstone, now 24, is back growing carrots in that same rabbit infested garden, dividing her time between Glen Dye in Kincardineshire, her family’s other home Hawarden in North Wales and London, combining growing vegetables with cooking and writing recipes. She is one of a new generation of young people recognising the ways in which the current system of industrial food production is not working, with the energy and borderline obsession to do something to change it. Just two years ago, newly graduated from Edinburgh University, Xanthe was following a much more conventional career path for a recent graduate - she was in an office job working on marketing for food and drinks companies.

Very quickly though she realised that being inside, sitting still and working at a desk were making her unhappy. She retreated home to rural Wales to rethink her career and then to Ireland to take the legendary Sustainable Food Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The course is taught by Darina Allen and a host of internationally acclaimed teachers - over six weeks it covers organic growing, climate change, food waste, nutrition, foraging - a modern, evidence based, food culture that harks back to traditional methods and skills. It is a course that fosters understanding of the link between the farm and the plate with an emphasis on sustainable growing and eating, a course that aims to reset the broken system of food production.

“By far the most important thing I have taken from the course is learning from the ferocious passion that the whole team of teachers bring to the school. Learning to question the system, to stick to your beliefs and to value proper quality food. We close our eyes too often to understanding the journey that food has made to get to our plates.”

Back in the gardens, Xanthe is deep in mud, creating lasagne raised beds and planning her crops, seeing what will grow in enough quantities to sustain a business. In Wales she has a beautiful, if previously underused, Victorian walled garden to play with, but in Kincardineshire her plot is on top of an unsheltered hill.

“I have chosen to grow similar vegetables in both places, so seeing how the different climates affect how they grow and how they taste is going to be a fascinating experiment.”

The food itself is destined for the various Gladstone family businesses - the holiday cottages at Glen Dye, Hawarden Farm Shop and The Good Life Experience festival in Flintshire - as well as for Xanthe’s own restaurant project, a pop-up supper club in London called Knuckle which she runs with her boyfriend Hugo Ross.

At present they get their produce from the organic vegetable sellers Abel and Cole and the aim is to gradually supplement that with home grown - knowing the exact provenance from seed to plate, closing the gap between grower and eater.

Xanthe is a great fan of the American chef Dan Barber, writer of the book The Third Plate, who has campaigned for ‘Farm to Table’ style restaurants to evolve much further.

Rather than cherry picking the most conventionally highly prized ingredients, he encourages chefs to look at the food that is being underused or wasted along the way. The more unfashionable cuts of meat, the less glamorous vegetables, the parts that would be thrown out. For me this holistic view of ingredients is something that is much more likely to happen when there is a true connection between the growing and the cooking. It is obviously something we get on an individual level when we grow things to cook, but it has been missing from a lot of restaurant food, even the restaurants which put great emphasis on provenance. The browsing of a farmers market selection or the visiting of a farm is good sourcing, but it is not the same as actually growing things and knowing them.

Personally I think all chefs should have a stint tending growing things as part of their training. I believe it transforms a relationship to food – it fosters a generosity with ingredients, a lavishness with herbs and greens, but also a care and respect. The knowledge of how frost and rain and soil affect flavour, when to harvest for specific subtle changes of tastes – these things can’t be learned from bought ingredients, only from grown.

Xanthe is spreading these passions through community projects too - from being a gardening ambassador in primary schools to organising a farmers market for local producers within the walled garden at Hawarden.

There are bees and chickens and a great love of making things from scratch, digging around for the ways things have been done for generations and re-interpreting them for contemporary tastes. Xanthe has a wonderfully evocative Instagram feed, full of vegetarian recipes with vegan versions - and she has given us her recipe for Radish and Carrot Kimchi.

Photo Kinvara Gladstone

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Snapdragon social

Stillness is such a difficult skill to acquire.  I suspect that so much of the rushing about that we do is simply an attempt to avoid being still.
For if we stopped, paid attention to ourselves, to the world around us, let everything sink in - well that might be very scary.
But I do think it is the most important skill - a five minute pause, a checking in.  I'm not talking about meditation here - nothing as formal as that - just a stilling and listening and paying attention. Appreciation, recognition, renewal.
It is something that I am very bad at by nature - but I have been taking lessons from Dixie. 

For if a spaniel can relax into stillness, nosing into a shaft of sunshine, then I'm sure I can.
Teasel isn't quite there yet.

#aseasonalway #springerspaniel #springerspanielsofinstagram #slowlivingforlife #lessonsfromdogs #bringyourdogtowork #storiesoftheeveryday
One thing that gardening teaches you year on year is that so much is beyond your control. Some things will thrive, others won’t, and mostly it will be nothing to do with anything you’ve done. 
Some years will be great for one crop, terrible for another. This is a great year for garlic here, awful for beans. 

It’s the same with business - a lot of things happen that are due to the ‘weather’ of the world. We can pivot and turn, change our tactics, Google ‘how to make reels’ and so on - but we can also choose to embrace and lean into what is working well. 

My Friday letter today is about social media and all the ways I’ve used to connect with people over the past 21 years - if you fancy a read you can sign up in my profile. 

And in the meantime I’d love to know what’s growing well for you. Or indeed, what has been a disaster! 

#theartofslowliving #livethelittlethings #nothingisordinary #natureandnourish #embracingaslowerlife #aseasonalway #seekthesimplicity #scotlandsgardens #growyourownfood #cornersofmyworld #greenthumb #rusticgamesttong #cornersofmyworld #simpleandstill #vintagegreenhouse
Each year I have a personal project running.  Something just for me. Something that allows me to experiment and play. 
The first year that I became obsessed with using the plants here to dye textiles - back in 2019 - it was twelve skeins of a raw slubby silk yarn that I  had been hoarding for decades. They became a patchwork cable blanket that now sits on the back of the sofa.
In 2020 it was double knitting yarns, in dozens of colours, knitted into a stripy jumper to keep me cosy in the Studio.
Last year I dyed linens and am gradually making them into patchworks and appliqués - many I am squirrelling away for a project that I may or may not ever begin.
This year I am using mini skeins - in an attempt to keep it more manageable - and exploring the differences in colour caused by the pH of the original extraction. 
There are four skeins for each plant, two for neutral extraction, two for alkali - with one of each pair being dipped in iron to 'sadden' the colour.
If science had been like this at school I might have paid more attention . . . .

#botanicaldye #alchemy #growyourowncolour #gameoftones #plantdyed #naturallydyedwool #plantdyersofinstagram #craftwithconscience
#shadesofnature #extractedfromnature #inspiredbynaturesbeauty #plantdyedyarn #naturaldyedyarn #foragedcolour
This is a tomato salad that was inspired by one I ate a few years ago in a cafe in Mingun, Myanmar,
There it was mainly made with green tomatoes, sharp against the shrimp powder.
In Myanmar the military junta have begun to execute activists arrested after the coup in February 2021. The brutality and violence continue, the quashing of democracy, the corruption. 

11,759 people, arrested after the coup, remain in detention, 78 people, including two children, have been sentenced to death.
You won't usually find much out about Myanmar in the 'fed to you' media, but this week there has been reporting and a Dispatches programme about mass killings  was on Channel 4 on Monday.  The Guardian has consistently been the newspaper reporting most on the aftermath of the coup and you can also follow hashtags like #whatishappeninginmyamar here. 
There may seem little we can actively do about the horrors in the world, but people involved always say that what matters is knowing that people care, bear witness and don’t simply forget when the news cycle moves on.
We always have a slight breeze here - a blessing as it stops the midges flying.
It often gets up at night after a warm day, seeming to breathe its way round corners. 
If you walk through the garden in the evening at the moment, the scent of Lilium regale drifts about you in eddies of spice.

#simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #underthefloralspell #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
The more I travel down this road the more I realise that deciding how you live, which values you honour, what you will prioritise all have to be deliberately chosen. 
You can’t just drift into a slower, more intentional life. 
You can’t buy it. 
You have to make a commitment to actually live it. 
And that’s not always easy. 
It is why I go to events like last weekend’s summer camp @thegoodlifesoc . 
It is also why I surround myself with a supportive community where my choices don’t seem weird.

It is why my to do list today has sitting with a coffee taking in the swoony scent of the sweet peas on it. 

#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
This is the actual physical Studio.
It is a little cabin between meadow and wood - a space for creativity and connection a space that I deliberately and intentionally worked towards for a number of years.  There is a sunny deck looking onto trees for the summer, a wood burning stove for the winter.
The Studio is also another thing - it is a club of amazing people who are intentionally prioritising their creativity and connection to the natural world. 
It is a community of great humour, support and inspiration - the best thing that I have ever had a hand in.
The Studio Club is closed to new members at the moment and the doors will open to new members again on the Autumn Equinox. 

I'm currently working with @fbarrows, who is providing a gentle and encouraging outside eye, as I decide on what we will be doing in the club over the next six months.
I've been surveying all the members to find out exactly what it is they enjoy most, what they feel I could do better. 

In this week’s Friday letter I've included a link to a short survey, because I  think it would also be useful to know what people who follow me, but are not members, feel about these things. 
If you get it, it would help me so much if you could take a minute to fill it out - there are only five questions and there is also a bribe . . . .

#slowlivingforlife #simplelife #whereiwork #simpleandslow #creativelifehappylife
The more we actively take time to pause, to sit still and watch, the more we see. 
My Friday Letter this week is all about taking advantage of some unwanted early wakening and starting to use the binoculars which have been hanging on the coat rail for eighteen months.
Twenty minutes with a cup of tea, the binoculars and a lawn full of early birds and their worms.


About Snapdragon Life

In the Studio Club I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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