Right, that’s it, I’m officially hacked off. They were watered, earthed up, cossetted… for God’s sake, I only stopped short of putting an After Eight on their pillow every night, and my Mimi potatoes are still a disaster. (Those, by the way, who are looking at the picture and thinking, what’s she complaining about, they fill half a bucket? should know that this is a toddler’s bucket, as illustrated by the helpful accompanying spade).
OK, so I didn’t feed them. And maybe they were in quite a shady spot. But the soil was manured last year and had compost added this and the whole point of Mimi potatoes is that they’re first earlies so supposed to be ready 10 weeks after planting and, come on, four whole plants growing away there for 94 whole days of my life – that’s even more time than you can be held in a British prison without charge – and I’m left with this? Please someone, tell me where I went wrong… I’m off to the beach to make a sand castle.
Sometimes, when Eric Robson’s ‘jokes’ aren’t rendering me temporarily deaf in self-preservation, elements of Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time creep into my subconscious where they linger and fail to drop into the slop tray of forgettances. One such tip, given I think by Pippa Greenwood, but possibly he of the extremely creepy ponytail Bob Flowerdew, was about how to get two crops out of autumn-fruiting raspberries. My ears pricked up at this since, with a little city garden, I can only fit in one raspberry bush, Autumn Bliss.
The traditional advice for pruning autumn-fruiting raspberries is to cut the canes to an inch of the soil in February, so new canes can grow up and fruit by September, giving you one crop. But, aha, if you cut only half your canes back in February, you’ll not only get early raspberries around now, but your September crop too! I can now report the momentous news that it works.
It may be sad to get excited about this, but it’s 9.46am, I’m pregnant and therefore go fuzzy and weird without food, there’s no bread in, and the milkman hasn’t come yet (yes, I live in London but apparently London via Trumptonshire) so no cereal. Popping out this morning and eating four (count ’em) raspberries may therefore have stopped me coming over all peculiar. Try out this newfangled pruning tip and you may be similarly saved. You read it here first (via Gardener’s Question Time – or was it Gardener’s World… or Cash in the Attic – please someone give me some food).
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)
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.
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.
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…
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.