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Monday, 26 May 2008

Vivacious Herbaceous

Herbs are apparently easy to grow, and yet the only two I’ve successfully managed are rosemary and coriander. Countless pots of basil have withered into dust and the parsley literally just disappeared over night. It was doing well for a while and then one morning the pot was empty, admittedly I can’t be certain it was overnight as I hadn’t checked it for a few days, but still, odd.

Initially I thought the coriander had failed too and then out of the ashes of the parsley a rogue shoot appeared. I had grown them in the same container and must have mixed one of the coriander seeds in with the parsley. To be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings about the coriander from the start. It’s probably my least favourite herb, but more importantly I didn’t think it suited the look of my terrace. First it just spread across the bottom of the pot, then the leaves started to turn red and I was attempting a white and purple colour theme… ha! Finally, one thin spindley stalk appeared, and it grew and grew just like Jack’s bean stalk. It’s now 1 metre tall. For some reason my boyfriend fell in love with it which is the only reason it survived my secateurs, and even that was nearly not enough to save it. But then a couple of weeks ago one stalk turned into 5 and they all seemed to spontaneously burst into flower, beautiful little purple flowers speckled with white. It’s definitely starting to grow on me.

My second herbaceous offering is the rosemary. Bought as an established plant it should have been plain sailing but keeping with the theme of the blog, I even managed to get this one wrong. Turns out the container was far too small so the poor thing became
pot bound . But this leads me on to my next dilemma. I grew a cutting of the rosemary in a glass jar of water until it began to grow roots, once planted outside it survived the winter but that’s about all it did, survive. So after the whole pot bound incident I decided it may help to put it into a bigger container. My sister in law told me not to, the logic being that if you but a small plant into a big pot, it puts all of its energy into forming a root system and growing downward rather than up. My mum told me to do it, and as mothers always are, she was right… it’s now thriving and almost ready to be plucked.

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All Things Edible

For me, one of the most appealing things about having a garden is the possibility of growing my own vegetables and becoming self sufficient – well not exactly self sufficient, I’m a meat eater after all but you get my drift. Well now I have it… to date I have two thriving pots of lettuce, 7 tomotato plants, 3 pots of beetroot, 2 pepper plants and my most recent addition, 10 little pots of red onion seed.

Perhaps my pride in my little vegetable patch is a little premature given that the only thing that’s ready to eat is the lettuce, and my partner and I aren’t able to eat it quickly enough so it’s starting to wither. But, still, I wasn’t expecting my friend’s slightly dismissive comment during an evening on the roof terrace, ‘oh growing vegetables, it’s great isn’t it, it’s so trendy now too, everyone’s doing it.’ Now I don’t take offence easily, but I was offended. ‘YOU DON’T GET IT’ I wanted to shout. The romance of growing vegetables lies in the premise that it’s not just part of a trend. Exactly the opposite in fact, it’s an attempt to remove yourself from a consumer driven society. To only produce what you need (there’ll only be one pot of lettuce next year), to learn to care for and understand what you are producing, and to work hard to produce it. And as a new-comer to this gardening malarky, it is damn hard work.

Suddenly there are so many things to consider. When I buy my fruit and veg at a supermarket, I merrily ignore the chemicals that have been used to grow and and protect the plants I’m eating. When I grow them on my roof terrace I’m suddenly filled with paranoia. Will the dye from the wool I’ve used to tie my tomato plants contaminate the fruit? What kind of fertiliser is safe to use? Is this whole exercise going to be fruitless anyway given the levels of pollution in London?

The tomatoes started off so well, lovely, little shoots grown from seed that grew and grew. Then, we went on holiday and came back to what can only be described as natural selection in action. Half of the shoots were dead and disintegrating, and the other half, for reasons unbeknownst to me had tripled in size and were literally bursting out of their containers. The survivors were swiftly transferred outside into appropriately sized pots. The next day London was hit by a frost, seven survived. They’re now doing well with no fruit yet but full of clusters of beautiful yellow flowers.

The BBC Website tells me that I should be aiming to have single stemmed tomato plants and to achieve that I have to snap the other branches off. What?? This seems to be a familiar theme throughout the gardening world, lovingly nuture your plants from seed, and then when they’ve grown to a reasonable size, ruthlessly destroy the weak to save the strong. Logically I realise my garden is not the site of an epic battle of morality and that at some point the deed will have to be done, but until I’m ready to pluck up the courage to do it, my toms will remain multi stemmed.

The beetroot are my greatest source of pride.
The Guardian newspaper gave away a guide to gardening that advised soaking the beetroot seed in water for 24 hours before planting. Now I have no control sample to compare them to but the beets have done amazingly, their healthy green leaves stained with the unmistakeable red of beetroot make me smile every time I see them. However, I have no idea how I’ll know when they’re ready. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) say that there are three harvests, starting in June ending in October. To my mind that’s four months of wondering and waiting and a massive window of opportunity to get it wrong. I’ll keep you posted…

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Sunday, 11 May 2008

Welcome to a city in bloom...

So it’s been months of waiting and wondering and at last the fruits of my labour are being realised… kind of. My little north London roof terrace is finally starting to bloom, blossom, sprout, grow and do all the other things that greenery is supposed to do.

Before we begin there are 3 things you really should know about me. First, patience is not a virtue I possess. Second, the reasonably sized roof terrace was very much the selling point of my flat. Third, despite my mother’s kind reassurances, I am most definitely not green fingered.

Why the blog? Well it’s pretty simple really, my family and friends are bored of the daily updates on the state of my rosemary but I can’t control the urge to talk about it. I imagine this dilemma to be akin to a new mother’s relentless baby talk. To the doe-eyed parents, their new bundle of joy is the centre of their lives (and hence they assume it’s everyone else’s too), to their childless friends, there’s only so much discussion about colic that they can stomach.

And so I turn to you blogger, I need to document the development of my little tomato plants, I need to know why my coriander is now 2 metres tall and I need to find other urban gardeners who try as they may, just don’t have the magic touch.

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