When Mike Kitchen first started growing his own vegetables at home he was trying to emulate the classic TV series The Good Life. “A lot of people talk about trying it but I thought I’d really give it a go and what I discovered was that growing vegetables is actually really difficult.
“I had taken a couple of years off work to stay at home with the children and you’d come back from a day at the beach or something and all your plants would be dead.”
Out of this initial discovery, Rocket Gardens was born. With a background in farming and horticulture, Mike decided to replicate the same process as farms but on a micro scale: “Farmers don’t grow from seed, they buy in their cabbages or cauliflowers or whatever they’re growing from specialist raisers and then plant direct into a field.
“From my own experience I knew gardeners at home must be struggling to raise plants in the early stages so we copied the concept from commercial farms and decided to do the hard bit for the gardeners, cutting out two to three months of early stage growth.”
Mike’s vision for Rocket Gardens was to create a Cornish business with a strong, national brand that could grow and supply a unique range of instant organic vegetable and herb gardens to individuals, schools and organisations throughout the UK.
Customers buy products online or through mail order and are delivered boxes of seasonal young organic plants ready to be planted in gardens, window boxes, raised beds or allotments. No gardening knowledge is required and Rocket Gardens are accessible to anyone, whether they have a large garden in the country or a window box in a London flat.
Since starting in 2006, Rocket Gardens has grown from a small 2-acre small-holding into a 125 acre purpose built growing facility based in Helston. With 22 modern poly tunnels setup with rainwater harvesting systems, automated ventilation and irrigation Rocket Gardens grows and sells more than one million plants per year, sending out 10,000 gardens across the country.
Mike is passionate about building a sustainable business with as little impact on the environment as possible. “With the exception of this year, normally in Cornwall we have a good early season and so we can grow more sustainably without using heat in the polytunnels for example.
“We don’t use chemicals and we encourage our customer to grow using organic methods. Ultimately the best way to reduce food miles and the cost of buying food is to grow it yourself and that’s really what we want to try to encourage people to do.”
Rocket Gardens has attracted some big-name attention and has been endorsed by Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and Alan Titchmarsh.
The venture also impressed Truro- based SWIG Finance, whose initial investment in 2017 has just been followed by a further loan to help its growth. Business Manager Mark Thayre says: “Rocket Gardens is a unique business and Mike is massively passionate about what he does. It’s a fantastic product and we were really keen to support the business so that it could invest in more equipment and expand its operation.”
Aside from selling plants to gardeners, Mike invests time in working with schools and works with the RHS to support the school garden project. “Our main objective is to get people and children growing vegetables but we’re also looking to grow our sales. We have a fantastic product where you can buy someone a garden and we’d like to scale up that side of the operation.”