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Three snowdrops have bravely shown their faces in the garden – somewhere between the improvised compost heap, and the stinky bit where all the neighbours’ chuffing cats do their business.
It reminded me that, with temperatures slowly creeping up, and February coming to its always unexpectedly early end, it might soon be time for my annual Great Garden Planning Event.
Now, I’ve always been a neglectful and lazy gardener, despite being born to an avid garden lover. It’s a shame, because I have no objection to flowers (apart from the fact they make me sneeze), I enjoy looking at a green lawn and neatly trimmed shrubbery. I understand, academically, that a good garden is an art form in itself – albeit on an unpredictable canvas; but it doesn’t stir my blood. Basically, I can’t get past the fact that I might get dirty. And there are spiders.
About 10 years ago, I experienced a revelation. I’m surprised it took so long, given that my world revolves around food. Anyway, I realised that I loved growing plants, as long as they were edible!
When I realised how easy it was to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, potatoes and herbs, I dived into gardening like a pig into mud. I wallowed in packets of seeds, tiny pots, labels, string and cheap propagators from Wilko.
At the time, we lived in a Victorian terraced house, with a very narrow, small, bumpy back garden, that sloped quite steeply down from the house. Hubby and Pa in Law had built a decked area off the back door that was alarmingly high, and had the feel of a beached ship’s deck.
There was room for a few pots on the deck, and a few pots around the side and front of the house. I decided I was a ‘container gardener’. I probably bought hundreds of pounds worth of pots and compost, revelling in the few pounds I’d save when I didn’t have to buy a packet of salad leaves or tub of tomatoes in a few months time…
I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I think I planted – from seed – climbing beans, broad beans, two types of peas, three types of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, radishes, swiss chard, lettuce, courgettes and pumpkins. (Who in their right mind would plant courgettes and pumpkins in such a tiny garden??) I bought one of those tiny zip-up plastic greenhouses from Wilko, laid all the little pots out on the rickety shelves, and then waited.
And waited and waited and waited.
I checked them every day. Sometimes three times a day. I was so excited, that I furtively poked the soil and had a little peek to see if the roots and shoots were forming. (Yes, I now know I probably killed them.) I did begin to wonder if I was cut out for this kind of hobby.
Eventually though, everything grew. Yes, EVERYTHING! I had more baby plants than I knew what to do with, but I couldn’t throw any away – that would be heartless. Every single cm of space in the garden was crammed with grow bags and pots. It would take me about half an hour every morning to go around with a stupidly small watering can, because we didn’t have a hose (or a big watering can).
The plants began to fruit. I was jumping up and down with anticipation.
Then I heard that the weather was going to turn cold for a few days. I researched what I should do, and decided to put the aubergines, which had just started to develop beautiful striped lilac fruit, and the tomatoes back in the tiny greenhouse until the weather improved.
The weather was indeed horrendous for a few days. Our house had a South West facing garden, and was very exposed. It could get swelteringly hot in the sun, or ridiculously windy and rainy on blustery days.
After the bad spell passed, I went into the garden to check on the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes…only to find the little greenhouse wasn’t there. I stared blankly at the space where it should have been.
Eventually I found it. To my immense rage, I discovered the wind had violently blown the whole thing down to the bottom of the garden, where it lay in pathetic dishevelment amongst the corpses of promising young plants, splintered pots and spilled soil.
As it happened, I managed to save many of the plants, but I was so discouraged by this offensive blow from Mother Nature, that I lost heart a little. The tomatoes grew out of control, the lettuce bolted, the runner beans ran wild. Just when everything had finally come to fruition and was ready to pick and eat, I lost interest.
That’s not to say I didn’t eat ANY of the produce. We did. And it was fantastic to see the kids plucking peas off the plant, splitting the pods and eating the peas raw like smarties; the tomatoes were eye-poppingly sweet and delicious; and I did deal with the glut of green tomatoes by making chutney, chucking in all the rest of the produce that had seen better days.
The passion was gone though. I decided that I didn’t have what it takes to be a gardener. I wasn’t able to deal with problems rationally and calmly. I took every slug, snail, cat poo, heavy rain and greenhouse-hurling tornado personally – ranting and raving, and causing dangerous blood pressure spikes.
So I packed away the propagators, little pots and labels, and put them in the shed – just in case – and didn’t give gardening another thought all winter.
However, to my surprise, when spring finally arrived the following year, I felt suffused with renewed enthusiasm. I stood in the doorway of the spidery shed, noted that the propagators and pots were a bit grubby and covered in spider webs…and bought brand new ones from Wilko, much to Hubby’s frustration. And we went through the WHOLE sorry process again. It’s like the appearance of daffodils, the mating of birds, the unfurling of new leaves… Spring makes me want to garden, year after year. But I never get any better at it.
Yesterday I stood on the patio in our back garden (the garden we MOVED HOUSE for), and I noted with mild embarrassment that everything in the pots is dead. Everything. I peered into the expensive vegetable-trug-on-legs that I bought from Blooms a couple of years ago, and although there’s some rather healthy-looking swiss chard and mizuna in there, I’m not sure it should be consumed, given that it seems to be fertilised with large quantities of cat poo.
However, the air is mild, the frosts have abated, and the three snowdrops have made their appearance. It's time to start planning the vegetable garden again.