Sowing Roots: Sylvia Hylton
‘Every day I go in the garden, and I love it’.
Sylvia Hylton was born in London, but her parents were born in Jamaica and came over to the UK in the 1960s. Her interest in gardening has peaked over the last four years. She grows fruit and vegetables in her garden including spring onions, callaloo, tomatoes, dwarf beans, cucumber, strawberries, redcurrants and has dwarf pear and apple trees.
In Jamaica her maternal grandfather farmed vegetables and fruit including banana, ackee, potatoes and yam. Her mother wasn’t interested in farming or gardening growing, but when Sylvia was a child in London, she remembers they kept chickens and had an apple tree in the family garden.
These days her mother grows vegetables including callaloo, spinach, sweetcorn, gungo peas and kidney beans. ‘She’s very green fingered’, says Sylvia, ‘Even now in her garden, she’s like a magic grower, she just sprinkles the seed and it grows!’
Knowledge about food growing has been passed down from her grandfather and her mother, and she says this is an important part of her Caribbean heritage, ‘because in Jamaica most people plough the land’.
For Sylvia, growing callaloo is a connection to the Caribbean, but many fruit and vegetables, such as ackee, are a struggle to grow in the UK climate. ‘With the ackee plant in Jamaica could you get it fresh from the tree, whereas here now you buy it in a tin, full of water and it’s just not the same, it really isn’t.’
But it’s not just vegetables that she enjoys in the garden, Sylvia is also interested in exploring design and artistic elements. She likes a colour scheme of purples and blues, with alliums being a particular favourite flower. Her garden is designed with distinct areas that each serve a purpose: there’s the higher-level patio from which you descend into the garden, a kids’ area with a trampoline and a cosy area where she’s trying to create a wildlife pond, with the aim of attracting frogs to assist her ‘war with slugs’.
‘When you’re creative, you’re creative in different ways. For me, that has translated into my garden. So when I’m doing stuff in the garden, I’m actually looking at – where am I going to put that table, or shall I put a mirror there, will it make that plant look a certain way. And I like to put little objects of interest in my garden.’
Sylvia’s work reflects her passion for gardening, and she is passing on her knowledge and heritage of gardening to a new generation as a family engagement worker at Myatt’s Field Park working with 0-3 year olds. She grows vegetables with the children, teaching them how to water and nurture young plants.
‘We’ve got runner beans, potatoes, what else did we plant? Basil, mint, lettuce, tomatoes, corn. And we also offer plants to people that don’t have a garden. Like if they’ve got a balcony, we’d offer easy things to grow like miniature tomatoes, or herbs that they can put on their windowsill. I do quite a lot of work within the community, I really enjoy it.’