Guernsey has a long and successful history of growing; thanks to its favourable climate, glasshouses on the island produced fruit and vegetables for export to England and fifty years ago more than half of the island’s population were engaged in the growing, picking and packing of tomatoes – known locally as the “Guernsey Tom”. For over a hundred years between the 1860s and 1970s horticulture was a cornerstone of Guernsey’s economy, and the industry’s glasshouses covered 7% of the island. These days, most of those vineries stand empty, however one particular vinery has been brought back to life by Joyce Hardy who cultivates the mandarin limes used to produce Wheadon’s Gin mandarin lime and hibiscus infusion here at the Bella Luce.
Joyce can grow things that nobody else can grow. Her vinery in the parish of St Sampson is enormous, covering almost an acre and with an accompanying orchard out the back. It is made from an aluminium frame and countless panes of glass. Joyce and her husband acquired the vinery in 2008 and have been working tirelessly to bring it back to life, with the eventual aim being to offer greenhouse tours to showcase to locals what they can do with an old vinery and encourage a revival in their use.
Originally growing potatoes and vegetables, Joyce now primarily cultivates citrus fruits incredibly successfully. She takes many unwanted and “nearly dead” plants from nurseries and pours time, energy and a lot of love into nursing them back to full health, often not knowing exactly what species the plant is until it fruits. Alongside her easily recognisable oranges, lemons and limes, Joyce grows kumquats, Rosa lemons, pink grapefruit, kaffir limes, the incredible looking “Buddha’s Hand” citron and the mandarin limes that we use.
“The old citrus plants that I started to take cuttings off were the deformed and unwanted stock that I bought and planted in to start with, but then as they took and grew so well, so did the idea of growing citrus under glass. My main crop of citrus came in as a mixed bunch of varieties from the nursery that also included the mandarin limes (also known as rosa limes or rangpurs) that Luke uses to make the gin from.”
Joyce is descended from an old island family, that dates back to 1511. The Tostevins who had a long history in horticulture. Her great-grandfather had Delisle Vinery but because of Guernsey’s inheritance laws at the time, her great-uncle would have inherited that whilst her grandfather as the younger son was expected to join the clergy or the military. Her grandfather joined the Guernsey Militia, and left Guernsey to fight in the Great War – she believes as part of the Guernsey Light Infantry. His family went with him to England, so whilst some of her aunts and uncles were born on the island, her mother was born in England and long harboured the desire to return “home”. The Second World War delayed the family’s return, but in 1958 when Joyce was a young girl her parents moved to Guernsey and her father took up a teaching post. When the tomato industry begin to decline, Joyce’s father took advantage of the exporters not knowing what to do with the stock that they couldn’t sell to the UK (because of competition from cheaper Dutch tomatoes) and began a tomato and vegetable round selling to local chefs. Her mother was renowned for being very “green fingered” and being able to grow almost anything, which is where Joyce believes she gets her love and natural affinity from her heritage for horticulture.
“I am by profession a holistic practitioner, I have always been involved in one way or another with growing and have always had an affinity with plants it’s in the genes. Mum always had green fingers; she used to be able to grown anything.”
Joyce grows for the love of growing; she juices and zests much of the fruit that she harvests and makes lemonade that she sells at local events from her Guernsey Tram stall, and we purchase her harvest of mandarin limes and are hoping to be able to use more of her produce both for gin infusions and on the menu here at the Bella Luce. We love the fact that she is breathing new life into an old vinery and reviving one of the buildings that are such a recognisable feature of our island’s landscape, and we are proud to use her incredible produce; fruit that has both a story and a purpose.