Jo Wood has got guts. the ex-wife of Rolling Stones rocker Ronnie Wood took on a huge project a few years ago, and now has a wonderful off-grid farmhouse in the UK.
“I’d dreamed of going off-grid,” she told The Telegraph. “I loved the idea of being self-sufficient, not only growing my own food, but having my own heat, electricity and water supply. This was it! It came with six acres, old sheds and barns ripe for conversion. The land was barren and there was no garden, but it meant I could do things my way. After my divorce from Ronnie in 2011, I’d been living in central London, so it was a huge change.”
Q: What did you have to do to get the house and garden up and running?
A:I moved into the house in November 2019, and in those first few weeks, the water ran out, the solar panels didn’t work, the electrics were dodgy, and the generator for heat and light broke down. I sat in the kitchen and said to myself: “I’ve made such a terrible mistake.” But slowly, I found the right people to help me turn things around. A modern generator was installed, new solar panels fitted and, after locating an underground water supply, an engineer drilled a hole nearly 300ft down to provide me with my own water. It was expensive, but from then on, I’d have no more bills.
Q: What were your plans for the garden?
A: One of the first things I did was to plant 70 trees, including willow, oak and apple. But my priority that first spring was to build raised beds for growing organic fruit and veg. Of course, four months after I moved in, the country went into lockdown; but with my son Tyrone and my daughter Leah and her family, we were all in the same bubble, so I got cracking and they helped me. Within no time, we’d sown everything from potatoes to pumpkins, with nasturtiums and calendula for colour. The house itself was already covered with climbing roses, so I planted lavender, rosemary and other scented herbs and flowers beneath.
Q: Why did you become so passionate about growing organic food?
A:I met Ronnie in 1977, when I was just 22. At that point, I had my son Jamie and he had his son Jesse. We had Leah and Tyrone together and got married in 1985. Then in 1990, I got ill and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I was on steroids; I was miserable. Then someone who’d read about my illness told me to cut out processed foods and go organic – veg, fruit, meat, the lot. With nothing to lose, I did. Four months later, I felt fantastic. But I got ill again. This time, I found out I didn’t have Crohn’s, I had a perforated appendix. Doctors were amazed I was still alive. I recovered, but my eyes were opened to all the chemicals in food, so I became even more obsessed with organic.
Q:How did your family react to your organic obsession?
A:Ronnie thought I was mad and the family banned me from using the word “organic”. But I was on a mission. The only thing I didn’t have was a garden big enough to grow my own food. It was when we went to stay at Ronnie’s house in Kildare, in Ireland, that I got my first taste of growing organic veg. I loved it. In fact, one year we had such a huge crop of potatoes, I put a load in a suitcase, took them to a Stones gig in Paris and asked their chef if he’d cook them. Keith Richards turned to me and said: “The trouble with you, darling, is that you’re addicted to organic.” Actually, Keith’s wife, Patti, has a veg garden in Connecticut. She gets it!
Q:What other projects have you focused on in your new home?
A:One thing my kids were excited about was creating a wild swimming pond. It was part of my plan to rewild a huge section of the land that I’d already scattered with native wildflower seeds, such as red clover, cowslip, ragged robin and oxeye daisy. Tyrone took charge. He had the pond dug out and lined with local clay, and once we’d filled it with water, Leah, who now lives with her family up the road, helped me get started with aquatic plants such as water hawthorn, spearwort, lilies and yellow flag iris. By the second year, they all went mad. Glorious! It came alive with wildlife and watching birds fly in and out was magical.
Q:What have been the biggest challenges to going off-grid?
A:In the early days, I’d often have to stick on my wellies and go out in the rain in the middle of the night because the lights hadn’t come on or the hot water was like ice. Now, I’ve replaced everything and there’s an app on my phone that tells me if the generator’s on and how much heat I’m getting from my solar panels. It’s other things that give me grief. Rabbits. One morning, I came out to all these holes and half-eaten muddy carrots. The audacity! But mud or no mud, I haven’t given up my glamorous life altogether. I still swap my wellies and woolly hat for heels and sequins sometimes. I’ve got the best of both worlds.