Back in 2017, Lucy Hutchings set out on a mission to grow as much veg as she possibly could in her tiny Suffolk back garden. No just any old veg. Beautiful, rainbow coloured veg, with sinuous trailing stems and delicate feathery foliage hung with glossy orbs and pendulent pods.

Perhaps it was her background as a couture jewellery designer shining through; the jungle of fruit and veg covering every surface of her compact growing space was a veritable treasure chest of edible jewels. Ruby beetroot, jet black tomatoes, emerald and amethyst mottled beans, topaz carrots... all grown from heirloom seeds.

In fact, Lucy had turned her back on designing jewellery for celebrities like Cheryl Cole and Kylie Minogue, deciding it was no longer the life she wanted. She was going through a stressful time in her life and growing food was something that made her happy. She had little interest in ornamental plants, although saw no reason why useful, edible plants couldn't also be decorative.

Great British Life: Lucy enjoys growing less well known vegetables. Lucy enjoys growing less well known vegetables. (Image: She Grows Veg)

She started researching heirloom varieties, forgotten fruit and veg and edible ornamentals, things our Victorian forebears loved but that we don’t eat anymore. It turned out she was good at it – so good, in fact that she became an Instagram hit as @shegrowsveg (she now has more than 185,000 followers), authored a book, Get Up And Grow, appeared on BBC's Gardeners' World and in person at Gardeners' World Live, launched the She Grows Veg heirloom seed company, and is now off to RHS Chelsea to spread the word about flavoursome veg with Michelin starred chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc.

In the She Grows Veg headquarters on a rural business park at Bentley, just south of Ipswich, Lucy is busy preparing for the big event with company co-founder Kate Cotterill. The pair met when they sat next to each on a horticultural course run by the Beth Chatto Education Trust and became firm friends.

In late spring last year, Kate was commuting to London. She had been working in marketing and events for 25 years, organising music festivals and working for famous brands. Now she was thinking about when she might give it up and pursue her passion for gardening instead. Lucy, meanwhile, was a point where she needed to take the flourishing Instagram presence she had been nurturing for almost seven years to the next stage.

Great British Life: Some of the colourful heirloom varieties from She Grows Veg. Some of the colourful heirloom varieties from She Grows Veg. (Image: She Grows Veg)

'Lucy is the creative heart, I'm the business head,' says Kate. They put the two together and formed the She Grows Veg brand, based on the seeds Lucy has collected and shared since she started growing rare edibles in her back garden.

'We knew there was a demand because of the number of people contacting Lucy asking how to get hold of all the seed she grows,' says Kate. 'We only started talking about launching a seed company in June 2023 and it's been a rollercoaster ever since. We started selling our seeds in November 2023 and we now have an online shop that sells more than 150 varieties that are taking off fast.'

Indeed, one entire wall of the cosy She Grows Veg office is covered with shelves and drawers filled with hundreds of packets of seeds for rare and unusual edible plants, all beautifully photographed. The packets carry the edgy She Grows Veg logo (Lucy's familiar biker boot sprouting chard), information and growing instructions, and a QR code to Sow, Grow and Taste videos on You Tube presented by Lucy.

They've taken a deliberately less traditional, slightly disruptive approach with the aim of encouraging people who might be put off by gardening jargon and worried about 'doing it wrong'. The videos are all about supporting people from pot to plate.

Great British Life: Lucy with her Manpukuji carrots. Lucy with her Manpukuji carrots. (Image: She Grows Veg)

'We want to make growing more aspirational,' says Lucy, 'to make more of a connection between the seeds and food, getting people to see them more like ingredients, growing foods you can't buy.'

She Grows Veg launched with 156 seed varieties and will be launching another 40 this year. Some are raised in trial garden and seed farm at Lucy's home Holton St Mary home, others come from suppliers in the UK and overseas.

They are exclusively heirloom varieties; that is, open-pollinated – produced by seeds that have resulted from the natural pollination of the parent plant – that have an interesting history. Unlike man-made hybrids, heirlooms have been grown for many years, almost exclusively for their taste and appearance.

'We think we can become one of the really big seed companies,' says Kate. 'During lockdown the veg seed market grew by 40 per cent; it's a younger demographic, a large proportion under 45.' Traditional companies, says Kate, believe people's first priority is reliability, so that drives seed development and often there's a compromise on flavour.

Great British Life: A beginners bundle of heirloom seeds. A beginners bundle of heirloom seeds. (Image: She Grows Veg)

'But there's huge demand from people looking for something more natural. Some heirloom seeds have been grown for 1,000 years.'

So, at a time when concern is growing about food being intensively farmed, treated with chemicals and packaged in plastic, She Grows Veg has a serious aim to show people how easy it is to grow their own food without any harsh chemicals and insecticides, and to become a little bit more self-sufficient. And Lucy's own tiny back garden experience proves that you don't need a lot of space to grow at least some of what you want to eat.

'Growing your own is such a great thing,' says Lucy, 'I want everyone to have the chance and the confidence to try it.' It's the motivation behind her Chelsea Flower Show appearance. Having already successfully shown at Hampton Court Flower Show, she decided to apply for Chelsea and got a great reception from the RHS for her 'Edimental' (edible + ornamental) proposal.

Great British Life: Peppermint chard is easy to grow. Peppermint chard is easy to grow. (Image: She Grows Veg)

'They loved it,' she says. 'They particularly liked the broader message it conveys, that you can have a beautiful garden made up of entirely edible plants.'

She Grows Veg will showcase its Edimental display in the Great Pavilion, long considered the jewel in the Chelsea crown where the greatest names in horticulture create dazzling displays. Lucy and Kate will be demonstrating just how bright and beautiful a garden of veg can be, helped by top floral designer Hazel Gardiner. On opening day Raymond Blanc will join them to cook heirloom produce, showing why its flavour is so superior and bringing to life the link between growing and cooking.

Lucy met Raymond Blanc at his Oxfordshire hotel and restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, where ran a She Grows Veg workshop. Raymond cultivates an abundant kitchen garden to produce fresh ingredients for his menus, many of them grown from seeds brought from his family's garden in Franche-Comte when Le Manoir was opened 40 years ago.

Great British Life: Raymond Blanc will cook at the She Grows Veg stand at RHS Chelsea. Raymond Blanc will cook at the She Grows Veg stand at RHS Chelsea. (Image: Raymond Blanc)

'He knows he has to grow what he needs,' says Lucy. 'We floated the idea of him cooking with us at Chelsea and he grabbed it. He's very supportive because it's completely in line with his own message.'

It's exciting times for Lucy and Kate, a real launching pad for She Grows Veg. 'It would be lovely to get a gold,' says Lucy, something she might not have imagined in the veg jungle in her tiny Suffolk garden just a few years ago. But even then, the seed was sown...