In 2009, I discovered I was able to grow much more food that I thought was possible on my small balcony in London. This changed my life. I started to eat better, tastier food. My growing connected me to the city and local community in new ways and provided a constant source of joy and fulfilment.
In 2010, I started Vertical Veg to inspire and support people to grow food in the city – and to benefit from its rewards. I also wanted to raise awareness that you don’t need a garden to grow food – any small patch of concrete that gets a bit of sun will do!
My mission is to demystify food growing and make it accessible to anyone. As well as this website and a Facebook Page, I run practical, online courses that enable you to learn by actually growing.
I also run workshops and give talks in the UK and an online club for experienced container growers.
Mark Ridsdill Smith
Founder, Vertical Veg
My name is Mark Ridsdill Smith and I’m the founder of Vertical Veg. I started Vertical Veg because I think food growing can change cities for the better. And, after making lots of mistakes, I also want to share all that I’ve learnt about container growing as widely as possible.
Unusually, I focus entirely on growing food in containers. This means that know at first hand the challenges (and benefits) you face in growing without a garden. I started my growing in London on a balcony, and now I have a container garden in our concrete backyard in Newcastle (UK).
My own growing achievements have appeared on national television (the Alan Titchmarsh Show and Love Your Garden on ITV), on BBC London, in national newspapers (including the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph), and in many gardening magazines and websites. My London balcony has featured in at least six books published in the UK, Japan, Canada and Austria.
How did I start growing?
I lived in a London flat for 20 years. I was yearning to grow food. After much fruitless waiting for an allotment, I decided to try growing on my balcony. Expecting the odd bowl of rocket, I was genuinely surprised when we were eating fresh food off the balcony nearly every day (even in winter).
Not only did we enjoy the addition of super fresh, delicious food with all our meals, but our lives were transformed in other ways, too. After fifteen years in the same flat, we met and chatted to many of our neighbours for the first time – who were intrigued by our growing on the street. We grew enough to have a surplus to share with friends and neighbours (a bouquet of herbs or a bowl of fresh chillies makes for a lovely gift when visiting friends). All our waste food was recycled in a wormery – so none was ever thrown away and wasted (I hate throwing away food waste now). Our two year old son loved helping out and, not normally a great veg eater, once plucked off and ate 18 cherry tomatoes in one go!
And last but not least I discovered an immensely rewarding and fun hobby that I grew to love – getting outside, interacting with the seasons and wildlife in the city, watching plants grow, experimenting with new crops in the kitchen. A hobby I also found creative and relaxing, and the perfect contrast to a busy urban life!
Why did I start Vertical Veg?
Once I’d discovered what was possible to grow in a small space, I started to look at London and other cities with new eyes: all that bare concrete and all those empty balconies, roof terraces and windowsills that had the potential to be green and productive! I was also aware that many people desire to grow food, but, like I had been, are unaware of what is possible on a small patch of concrete.
When I started growing, I struggled to do it successfully. I couldn’t find what I needed, and I made lots of very basic mistakes (even my rocket failed!), and spent money on ‘things’ when I didn’t really need to. I felt there was a need to demystify container growing, and break it down into simple, straightforward steps in plain English.
Finally, Vertical Veg also ties in with my dream of cities in which people live in closer connection with the seasons, nature and their food. While cities will always be reliant on importing many staple foods, there is no reason why most of our fresh salads, herbs, fruit and vegetables cannot be grown on our streets, window sills, balconies and back yards.