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Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers on the Magic of Gardening

Posted on 15th February 2024 by Mark Skinner

Luna Loves Gardening, the spellbinding sixth entry in the Luna Loves... picture book series, finds our adorable heroine discovering the untold wonders of her local community garden. In this exclusive piece, the author and Waterstones Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho and illustrator supreme Fiona Lumbers discuss their own childhood experiences of gardening and the natural world. 

Joseph: Growing up in a tower block on one of the biggest council estates in Europe meant that as a child, I didn't have regular access to a garden. We had a balcony and I soon realised that throwing bread from it would result in flocks of seagulls circling and catching crumbs in mid-air. As I got older and was allowed to explore my little London village of Roehampton, I discovered a love for nature in Richmond Park and on the many vast green spaces surrounding my estate. My friends and I would hunt out frog spawn in spring and place it in fish tanks on our balconies to watch the froglets grow, we'd climb trees and watch field mice under the quince bushes or discover nests in towering pines.

 

My grandparents had a garden and it was always teeming with frogs despite the lack of a pond (apparently they were escapees from next door.) Creatures big and small and trees first attracted me to nature. It was many years later that gardening became an obsession. First on the balcony of my north London home where I had two apple trees in pots and herbs in a mobile greenhouse. Clearly the space didn't suit my needs so I got involved with a local community growing project and was soon growing potatoes and tomatoes and squashes. I started to read widely about gardening and the best techniques for getting lots of produce from a small space and how to deal with slugs!  

When I got my first garden, I fell in love. I researched all the unusual edible plants that you can grow in a British climate, I grew mini kiwis and pineapple guavas, chilean guavas and oca, Rapini and spiky cucumbers, achochas and Peruvian ground apples, purple French beans and strawberry popcorn! I was amazed at how many new and exciting fruits and vegetables I could grow on my modest patch. I started to compost and found more than a few slow worms. 

In Luna Loves Gardening I wanted to share some of the passion I had discovered through gardening. I was particularly excited about a story that demonstrated how small our planet is and how many of the fruits and veg we enjoy daily are from far flung places. Writing the book helped me to reflect on how a garden can represent humanity's interconnectedness. 

When I received the first roughs from Fiona I was blown away, each spread is so alive with colour and movement, you can almost hear the bees buzzing off the page. Luna has always been about the magical entering the everyday through our passions and so I was so happy to see the stories of the seeds in the book coming to life on the page.

 

Fiona: Much like Joseph, my love of gardening was fostered from a very early age. My Grandad was an avid gardener and I would spend hours with him in his beautiful garden and greenhouse learning how to care for the plants and flowers, and how to grow vegetables - I can still remember how delicious the tomatoes were! He had a wormery and compost heap and an area of his garden was dedicated to wild flowers in order to attract a whole host of pollinators.

I was delighted when I received the text for Luna Loves Gardening. The story is so rich and evocative, I couldn't wait to get started on the illustrations - I'm never happier than when I'm drawing and painting from nature!

The artwork for Luna Loves Gardening was made during lockdown. It was wonderful escapism researching the images for the book whilst not being able to travel anywhere. It provided me with an opportunity to get immersed in all the colours and shapes of nature. The resulting artwork is abundant and full of colour. I really wanted to evoke the feeling of being immersed in nature, whilst celebrating the theme of interconnectedness within the story.

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