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By Promote ShetlandDecember 1st 2022

As a girl in the Czech Republic Misa Hay dreamt of having her own garden. When she moved to Shetland her garden wishes came true and, after many years’ experimentation, she now loves growing and cooking her own food.

Gardening in Shetland can be as challenging as it is rewarding. The climate at 60º North is not always conducive to ideal growing conditions, but as Misa Hay knows, dedication pays off.

Misa grew up in a block of flats in the Czech Republic where she always harboured the dream of owning a small garden. When she moved to Shetland almost 20 years ago her ambition was realised. Her garden is now a place she regularly escapes to, relaxes and enjoys magical moments, whatever the time of year.

She says, “My Shetland Garden is the place where I go in midsummer to breathe and find respite after a busy day at work. It is the place that gives us abundant gifts, such as fragrant rhubarb in early May, when you crave something fresh and zesty after a long Shetland winter.

“It is the home of the most beautiful feeling on a still winter’s day, when we light a fire in the firepit and gather with friends to enjoy a glass of mulled wine and a tasty bite to eat. When you don’t feel the cold, and snowflakes gently flutter in the air.

“These moments are brief, because weather in Shetland changes so quickly – they need to be savoured to their fullest when they happen.”

The need to capture those magical moments is not lost on Misa, who has a busy working life running 60 North Publishing and, Shetland Wool Adventures, offering textile tours to visitors.

Indeed, the enjoyment of those horticultural escapes is what inspired her to write a book “A Year in My Shetland Garden”, which combines her passion for growing fruit and vegetables and for cooking. It was also part of a “bid to slow down and appreciate what we have around us”.

If the gardening aspects of the book are a celebration of “producing your own food in the challenging conditions of 60º North”, the seasonal recipes, illustrated with beautiful images by Shetland photographer Susan Molloy, are inspired by her beloved garden and Shetland produce, specialities and wild plants.

“Cooking is one of my favourite pastimes and so is pottering in the garden, with my hands covered in compost and empty seed packets stuffed in my pockets,” says Misa.

“I’m very lucky to have access to a garden where I can play and experiment. Grow food for our table. Savour fresh mornings with a coffee in my hand and bare feet in the dewy grass. Enjoy long summer evenings eating pavlova with freshly picked strawberries and a glass of wine, when sun rays tickle your face and you wish the moment would last forever.

“Evenings when I get my colander and set off to pick just a few salad leaves for dinner ... and return with an apron-full of goodness such as courgettes, tomatoes, raspberries, kale and herbs, because everything is so abundant and fresh. I get lost in the garden time.”

Producing a bountiful harvest has not always been straightforward. But perseverance – and the emergence of polycrubs, sturdy tunnels made with repurposed materials – pays off.

Enjoy long summer evenings eating pavlova with freshly picked strawberries and a glass of wine, when sun rays tickle your face and you wish the moment would last forever.

Misa Hay

“My gardening beginnings in Shetland were interesting. When I moved to Shetland and my garden wishes came true, I quickly realised that because of the climate, it wasn’t going to be as simple as I had thought. I went from elation to despair. Would anything actually grow here?

“Everything I planted would get battered by the wind or fail to ripen – we have such a short growing season, on average 100 days less than on the UK mainland. Eventually, after a lot of trial and error, small successes came and little by little I learned what was worth putting effort into.

“A lot has changed since I moved to Shetland almost 20 years ago. Now many people grow an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables under cover – in Shetland-proof polycrubs.”

And as Misa’s book demonstrates, that array of Shetland produce can be transformed into many spectacular dishes.

Try one of Misa's dishes at home – check out these three recipes.

A Year in My Shetland Garden is available to buy from shops around Shetland and from Shetland Wool Adventures.