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  • Writer's pictureAnne Jennings

Reap What You Sow

‘There will be disappointments. The glorious visions that are conjured up when sowing or planting don’t always materialise and the painful memories of failures lurk in my written records: ‘chamomile path engulfed by chickweed; cat scratched up lettuce seedlings; first cabbage lost to pigeons; drought causing slow pumpkin growth; ‘Treviso’ chicory disappeared. There are bound to be highs and lows: no garden can be beautiful all the time.’ Joy Larkcom - Creative Vegetable Gardening

I have been fortunate in life to meet and befriend the lovely Joy Larkcom, as well as her now sadly departed husband Don Pollard about whom folks should know more. Start by reading:

Joy and Don collected and grew vegetables for decades in a way that not only influenced different generations of gardeners but also introduced a wide range of previously unknown edible plants to Britain. Joy’s books continue to be a rich source of knowledge and gentle humour, well worth collecting and reading – a quick web search will bring up the full list.

(By the way – she is also more than worthy of her name as to spend time with her is simply that.)

Joy is a pragmatic educator, as evidenced by the quote at the head of this Blog. She knows better than any the hard work and disappointments that balance the rewards and pleasure of growing your own. It’s pretty demanding at certain times of the year and sometimes you just don’t feel like getting back out there and sowing the next cycle of cut-and-come lettuce having watched the last lot go to seed in hot, dry weather.

I had abandoned any form of produce gardening over the years as life and work demanded so much time that there was little left for such a dedicated activity. In addition, we have an immediately local high street boasting not only a range of main player food stores but a rich and diverse collection of European greengrocers selling enticing and cheap fruit, vegetables and a host of previously unheard of condiments, herbs, cheese and other delicacies.

But Covid-19 arrived and turned our tread mill lives upside down. Talk (and reality) of food shortage, one shopping trip out each week and a commitment to leaving food delivery slots to the less able bodied forced the tiniest anxiety about where all this was heading. With time on our hands, a neglected garden and great incentive we began our Great 2020 Vegetable Patch project.

I managed to jump in with web seed suppliers before shortages hit and ordered the staples – spinach, chard (beautiful rainbow and ruby stems), mixed leaves, beans in variety, tomatoes (too many) kale, courgette, broccoli, squash (too many). Those were the sensible choices.

With run away enthusiasm I also selected carrots and seed potatoes– useless for our clay, stony soil so now growing in hugely unattractive giant plastic pots. Onion seed was a bit dumb too – such a wait!

Beds were dug and pallet-framed compost bins provided enriching material of varying quality – I now have a marvellous crop of nettles mixed in amongst the salad, a portion of which our son was unfortunate to eat one evening as it lurked disguised amongst the harvested Italian leaf mix.

We always have a regular and pesky community of wood pigeons, joined this year by breeding magpies and oh – what was that – of course, a returning squirrel after several years of absence. Add to that the families of foxes from the railway embankment, neighbours’ pooing cats and my own bouncy Springador – the vegetables had to be protected.

Cage frames were built from canes and proprietary steel rods then covered with insect grade black net, with a creatively designed (by me) roller blind along each long side for access. These have worked spectacularly well in terms of keeping pesky blighters from the produce but offer little in the way of aesthetic contribution. If we continue the project next year (still undecided), there will be a rethink.

But for now – 3rd week of June – we continue to harvest mixed leaves, chard, spinach, herbs and red leaved sorrel. Beans, peas and tomatoes are flowering and the always rewarding courgettes have bright golden trumpet blooms with miniature veg forming behind the female flowers. Our culinarily adventurous daughter has already filled and battered some of hers for Sunday brunch (she has also been growing her own in an eclectic range of home collected containers throughout lockdown – a first time gardener).

As I look toward returning to full time work at the end of the month my thoughts meander around the future of vegetable growing in this household. For sure I will need to pass the mantle as my own forays will be restricted to weekends, which may not be enough particularly as I would ideally like a little leisure time beyond the hoe and trowel.

So the future of the veg patch will be under discussion and along with that the final layout for the lower garden. The grow-your-own initiative was always with a thought to a one year experiment and it has been a fun and rewarding project that forced me back to the soil with gusto. I’m guessing we will compromise with a smaller area dedicated to edibles and a return to more ornamental gardening which is my forte.

In the meantime, as we head for a glut of tomato and courgettes, we will continue to enjoy our harvest and be thankful for good health and a garden that provided exercise, distraction, satisfaction and produce throughout this unprecedented time.

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