At our school ‘for young ladies and missionary daughters’ (I never understood that phrase – what were they implying about the morality of missionaries’ daughters?), they used to make us eat rhubarb pie. Naturally, this was a grey mass of sour, fibrous chunks capped by an indigestible bonnet of sugar-free concrete, referred to as pastry. This was only rivalled in horror by the ‘curry’, a slurry of mince dyed green and served with dessicated coconut to add that exotic touch. At six, I added my own exotic touch by flatly refusing to eat any of it and being banished to ‘top table’ where I could be monitored by the beady eye of the head.
The spectre of the curry still looms large, but I think I’ve finally laid my fear of rhubarb to rest by growing my own. I bunged a terracotta pot over the top of it in February and these gorgeous alien-like shoots came up, with strangely beautiful yellow crepe leaves and stalks the most perfect delicate pink. With a dash of water, sprinkled with a little sugar and left on a low heat till they go mushy, and, obviously served with copious double cream, it is quite simply heaven in a bowl. Or at least it was. It’s time to put away the forcing pot now and leave the poor plant to recover its strength for the summer. A sad day.
My aubergines and melons in the greenhouse are inundated with aphids that are sucking the life out of them and turning them into hunched, defeated shadows of themselves. I fear almost complete destruction within days. And this, despite spraying them with organic pesticide several times. This wouldn’t matter if I hadn’t been nurturing these plants since February with the loving attention of an Antarctic penguin nursing an egg. But it does matter, oh, very much. And don’t tell me I can just pop to Sainsbury’s and buy three types of melon or remind me that I don’t even really like aubergines. That, as any kitchen gardener will know, is not the point.
On a happier note, a photographer came round from The Sunday Telegraph to take some shots of me and my son in the garden, one of which will be in the paper this Sunday. In the past I’ve always dreaded these occasions since, at the age of 36, I have yet to find my ‘photo face’ and generally look either slightly simple or manically deranged when faced with the lens. If it’s a gardening photo, something even worse happens which is that I can’t seem to pose with a pair of secateurs or a trug without a stupidly wry look on my face as though I’m acting in a comedy movie, as if holding a pair of secateurs is a hilarious and odd thing to do, like holding a giant inflatable banana.
Luckily the photographer was charm itself and my son, a born poser at 18 months, stole all the limelight so all I had to do was hang around in the background, fortunately, without any props.
Watching Gardener’s World last night, I was struck yet again by a troubling thing. I’m sure there are plenty of women out there in the home counties who secretly warm at the thought of an antique-style leather jerkin, but I can’t see Monty Don on Gardener’s World without thinking of Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant. I don’t know if it’s the crinkly forehead, something about the ears. or his unique yen for retro-chic peasant clothing. And then there’s the title sequence, in which he hurdles hedges in a single stride while shouldering an enormous spade. He may be popping over to the Long Border, but he has the air of a man about to fell forests with a single blow. Either they’ve shot him from a funny angle or the man has 12 foot legs. Or, and this shouldn’t be totally discounted, everyone else who presents Gardener’s World is really really tiny.
Opening the lid of the terracotta rhubarb forcer, wondering, as ever, how many crops of rhubarb I would have to make before this ye olde worlde affectation has paid for itself (perhaps my great grandchildren will see it break even), I am struck by an army of slugs crawling over the forced stems like the blood-sucking leeches they are. I plunge my bare hand down through the top, through a spider’s web and into creepily damp straw and squelchy slug bodies, most of which drop promptly onto the soil anwyay. It was like Paul Burrell in I’m a Celebrity all over again, except I didn’t scream, just felt a bit sick inside.