And for my next trick…

I’ve been watching the drama series Heroes a lot lately – mainly because Mad Men (the best series since Six Feet Under) has now finished. Like Lost, Heroes is basically pants and utterly childish, though everything is delivered with such solemnity that they think they can get away with it. Which they obviously can since this is already series 2 and I, like many other poor souls, have wasted at least 12 hours of my life so far watching it.


Anyway, Heroes, for the uninitiated, is about a group of people with superhuman powers ranging from making everyone around them die of a fatal disease to gifts of the more traditional flying and mind-reading variety. Don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’m beginning to think I might be similarly gifted. It’s an unusual power, granted, but not without its potential. 

I talk of the ability to make food miraculously disappear. Contemplate the pictures below. How else can you explain how a mountain of broad beans picked in the garden can, when podded, find themselves reduced to this…? (Sceptics should know I can do the same thing with peas)



Snail soup


I’ve tried those blue pellets (scary), the wildlife friendly version (ineffective), cocoa shells (ditto) and crushed egg shells (utterly useless), but only now have hit on the surefire way to rid my garden of snails: namely cheap red wine and a bowl. Finding snails on my broad beans, apples, alliums and butternut squash used to be horrible; now it’s all I can do to stop whooping in celebration as I pluck them off and casually toss them to an alcoholic demise. I like to think they die happy in their little cocktail party of doom.



Salad maze


Green Conundrum No 2

As pondered while standing over the sink last night washing aphids, soil and the dark possibility of cat wee off salad leaves from the garden… Being a hypochondriac, and a pregnant one at that, I am a bit scared of toxoplasmosis so washed and rewashed every leaf of lettuce, mizuna, rocket, parsley and chive in the time it would probably have taken to walk to M&S, buy a bag of ready-washed salad, and tip it into a bowl. 

The question is this: does the fact the salad comes from the back garden as opposed to being transported by lorry and packaged in plastic cancel out the fact I’ve just wasted enough water to fill a small water butt?

I give up. My head hurts.

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning…

Ah, to be in Chelsea when the show gardens are on show, the loos have no queues and, if you’re beady eyed, you can spot celebrities of the heady calibre of Christopher Biggins, Arabella Weir and Jimmy Nail. Actually, that’s not entirely fair – I did spot Michael Caine trying to hide in a voluminous Barbour and cap (a disguise rather scuppered by the fact he was standing next to his very recognisable wife Shakira), the fragrant Susan Hampshire, Michael Palin and the top of Ringo Starr’s head – though it could have been an Australian tree fern.

But press day is not about the slebs, it’s about the gardens and, on my perambulations, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I have inadvertently created a very fashionable garden of my own here in Greenwich. What I thought was a problem – the fact that nothing is flowering – is, it seems, the very apex of horticultural savvy since pretty much all the show gardens this year are green. Green leaves, green flowers, just green. With maybe a white peony thrown in if you’re daring.

The Telegraph garden, Andy Sturgeon’s Cancer Research garden (pictured above) and the Reflective Garden were all stunning, but it was Daylesford Organic’s eccentric wheat field (complete with picturesque poppies and an artful scarecrow, naturally) and burgeoning  raised beds of vegetables (pictured below) that had me wanting to screech home, pull up my railway sleeper raised beds and take up an intensive course in willow weaving. In an arty twist on the old square foot vegetable gardening technique, they’ve gone for a grid of small rustic willow weaved beds, like baskets, filled with gorgeousness – wigwams of broad beans and tomatoes, clumps of flowering chives, structural artichokes, feathery purple fennel etc. Inspirational and aspirational – who knew you could say that about parsley? I suspect an army of 4x4s are screeching out of gravel drives in the Cotswolds in search of blood-veined sorrel as we speak.

Other highlights for the vegetable nerd (something I feel I am in good company over since I stood next to Nigel Slater who, for some minutes, was actually jotting down notes while standing in front of a wigwam of Mini Gem squash): Thompson & Morgan and W Robinson & Son’s displays in the Grand Pavilion.

Ghastly people alert: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife screeching ‘You’ve got to go to the Green Room darling, the GREEN ROOM,’ at everyone they met.

Most disappointing show garden award: Diarmuid Gavin’s tedious box ball and allium cafe terrace beneath a swarm of flower umbrellas. Same old, same old.

Surprising Titchmarsh in-the-flesh fact: how much makeup are they making that man wear on camera? The poor man looks like he should be in vaudeville.

We’ve only just legume…

Introducing the broad pea – a hybrid legume picked so prematurely that it cannot be accurately identified unless under a microscope. What can I say? The broad bean pods looked ready to me, and so did the peas. But then I shelled them. And this is what came out.


Despite much resolve, and threats by my partner to remove my secateurs to a padlocked box, I have yet again proved unable to let any crop get to a decent size before I brutally cull it and drag it into the kitchen. Obviously, I have still planned an entire salad supper around these diminutive specimens because That’s What You Do When It’s You What Has Grown Them. Don’t worry, we won’t starve, we have toast.

Green Conundrum No 1

If you buy miniature new potatoes from M&S that have been grown in Spain (back off, local food fascists, mine aren’t ready yet), does that get cancelled out by the fact that the container is 100 per cent compostable? I’m thinking it does…

May the forced rhubarb be with you

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.



Day of the aphids

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.

Is Monty Don the BFG?

monty donthe BFGWatching 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. 

Unexpectedly Revolting Garden Task of the Week

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.