Probably the weirdest thing that has happened as a result of my blog, was me being featured in a Chinese magazine this spring. The editor of ‘Little Thing’ magazine asked whether she could interview me for their issue on rural living, then sent me a list of questions over email. I sent my answers back and then (obviously) they had to be translated into Chinese. And let me tell you: it’s a little surreal, seeing a picture of yourself in a magazine surrounded by incomprehensible Chinese characters. Fun fact: when I was in college and lived in Prague I took a course in Chinese calligraphy and I remember the meaning of about 10 characters. (Which does not get me very far.) At the moment, most of my time and energy goes into finishing my manuscript and blogging (together with most other activities) has fallen by the wayside. To tide you over I thought I would share the interview here. When reading a blog, no matter whether it’s on gardening, food or running a small business, I am always curious about the person behind the words. Maybe you are, too, and since in this interview I also talk about stuff that does not come up on the blog, I hope you’ll enjoy this little peek into my life. I have put in a few random pictures including a couple of my husband since one of the things that probably does not quite come across here, is how much of what I do is only possible because of his endless support. We garden together, he takes many of the photos I need for my articles and patiently deals with all technology hiccups as well as my not-as-rare-as-I’d-wish melt downs. Since usually one of us is behind the camera, pictures of us together are very rare. The one below was taken by my uncle (thank you!) at my cousin’s wedding. Thanks for reading! LT: Tell us something about yourself? I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1975. Because I’d always been interested in languages, I decided to study English and Norwegian. But then I went to study in Oslo (Norway) for a year and met my future husband, who is Dutch. Which is how I ended up living in the Netherlands and raising two bilingual children. After I moved here, I worked as interpreter for a while, but there was not much work in that field. In the beginning, gardening was just a hobby but then I started teaching gardening courses and writing and photographing for gardening magazines. Gradually, this became my job. I also design edible gardens and teach Norwegian. LT: Walk us through your typical day. Because I do not have a typical 9 to 5 job, I do not really have typical working days. Usually I work from home and I have a lot of freedom in how I organize my days. This means that sometimes I teach a gardening course on Saturday or take photos on Sunday, but other times I can take a day off in the middle of the week. On Monday mornings I work in the community garden with a group of volunteers. Most days I spend a lot of time writing, photographing and photo-editing. When the weather is nice, I like to spend some time in my garden, but my edible forest garden at home does not need a lot of work. It is designed according to the permaculture principles and when your design is good, the garden will mostly take care of itself. In spring, when my allotment (which is about 5 km from our home) needs the most attention, I cycle there about once a week and spend a few hours tending the garden. My children come home from school around 4 pm and sometimes I have to help them with homework. After dinner I like to go to our allotment, together with my husband, but that is only possible in late spring and summer when there’s enough light in the evenings. Two nights a week I also teach Norwegian. LT: What does your ideal life look like? Are you living your ideal life? In an ideal world, my garden would be bigger and I would have more time to spend there. It is perhaps too romantic but I dream of a self-sufficient lifestyle – but I also know that in reality, such a way of life means a lot of hard work. But I am pretty happy in the place where I am now and feel that I am as close to my ideal life as I can be at the moment. LT: Our theme is about “Rural Life”. How do you think about “Rural Life”? I believe “Rural Life” is more about a mindset than about your geographical location. To some extent, you can live a “Rural Life” in the middle of the city. I started a community garden in my neighborhood and we grow vegetables right next to the playground. Many of our neighbors also keep chickens in their backyard. Even if all you have is a sunny windowsill, you can have a small herb garden! LT: Your homeland is a beautiful place. Could you tell us more about where you live? When people think of the Netherlands they tend to imagine wind mills and tulips, but these are only typical of the western part of the country. We live in the east, close to the German border and the countryside looks different here. I do have lots of tulips and daffodils in my garden but you will not find tulip fields around here – corn is much more likely. Another typical Dutch thing are wooden clogs and many people still wear them, not to work but at home in the garden. My husband has a pair that he likes to wear when working outside. We live in a small city called Hengelo which has around 80 000 inhabitants. It is big enough to have good schools, a large library, a big theater and some nice cafés. Because the city was bombed heavily during the Second World War there are not many old buildings but there’s a very nice residential quarter called “Tuindorp”(which means “Garden City” in English) that was built at the beginning of the 20th century by the local factory owner for his employees. It is beautifully designed with a lake in the middle, many large trees and a variety of houses in the English style. Like everywhere in the Netherlands, the bike is the most usual mode of transportation (which is one of my favorite things about the country). Our street is nice and quiet, yet it takes just five minutes to cycle to the center. I like the size of our city! LT: What leads you to grow your own? The most important thing is probably the taste: freshly harvested, well grown vegetables just taste so much better than supermarket produce. But I also think it is important to know where your food comes from and have some control over the quality – I grow organically, so I know the vegetables and fruit I give my kids are truly good for them. LT: What does your garden mean to you? So many things! It is of course a way to feed my family well. It is inspiration for most of my work: writing, teaching and photography. It is a place to play, try new things and learn. But it is also a place where I relax. After a few hours of gardening, I usually feel calm and content. LT: Do your family help you to plant or harvest? My husband helps a lot – we almost always work in the garden together. It is often our happiest time together – working side by side without distractions. He also takes many of the pictures I share on my blog, obviously those with me in them but he also likes to photograph wild life (insects especially). My children used to come with us when they were little, but now they are teenagers and not interested in gardening at all. But I hope that someday they will remember how good the vegetables tasted and they will also want to grow their own, too. And because they have learned a lot by just being with us in the garden, they will know how to do it. LT: Could you tell us what’s your favorite season? Why? Spring – after the winter I cannot wait to be able to work in the garden again, to start sowing and planting. It is wonderful to be spending more time outside again and to see everything coming to life. LT: I find many recipes on your website. You’re quite good at cooking. They all look delicious. What’s your specialty? What’s for dinner tonight? Thank you! I have always liked cooking and baking especially. My parents are both great cooks and I liked to spend time with them in the kitchen when I was young. I borrow from different cuisines, my native Czech, Dutch but also Italian and others. I like Chinese food, too, even though I am no expert. My specialties are probably vegetable and grains salads, like the ‘Brussels sprouts, winter squash and quinoa salad’ that we often eat in the winter. I also like savory tarts. Tonight we’re eating potato mash with endive which is a typical Dutch meal. LT: What do you think is the most enjoyable part of gardening and cooking? Eating, of course! No – just kidding. I enjoy the whole process – from seed to plate. Planning my meals starts with ordering the seeds in spring. LT: What do you feel is the most challenging thing about gardening? Do you meet with difficulties in the planting process? When you garden organically, sometimes it feels like there are so many pests just waiting to demolish your crops. But if you grow a variety of vegetables, there is always something that grows well, even if not all your crops will succeed. Against insects, I use netting, which is quite effective and better than spraying chemicals. LT: If people want to plant fruit, flower or vegetables, do you have any tips? (Like how to solve the insect pest; which kind of vegetable or fruit is easy to raise and easy to harvest…) For beginning gardeners, I usually recommend to start with herbs. If your climate is not too cold, Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, sage, rosemary and oregano are very easy to grow and you can pick them for months. For colder climates, herbs like chives and mint are also very easy. If you want to grow vegetables, it is important to start small. You can make your garden bigger when you gain more experience, but it is sad when people get discouraged because they started too big and then could not keep up with the demands of weeding, watering and harvesting. In our climate these are some of the easiest vegetables to grow: radishes, lettuce, peas, beans, courgette, chard, onions… Another great trick is mulching – keeping the soil covered with organic material like straw reduces weed growth and evaporation so you do not need to weed and water nearly as much. LT: What is something new you have noticed or learned recently? Do you have any plan in the coming years? Sometimes people think that when you’ve gardened as long as I have, you know everything. But that is not true, gardening is a never ending process of learning, trying new things and coming up with clever solutions. I learn something new every season. Last year for example I participated in an international project called “Garden Connect” where gardeners from different countries planted the same vegetables in a 2m x 60 cm plot and compared their gardening methods and the influence of their climate. Next year I want to try growing some grains – I have only grown quinoa so far. LT: What’s your favorite little thing? Since we’re talking about gardening, I’ll say my trowel. I only use hand tools in my garden and I like tools that are well made. This trowel is stainless steel and I bought it in England.
5 comments for “Little Thing magazine interview”