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Friday, 19 June 2009

Rooting around

It was around 4.30pm on my last day in my previous job when upon seeing the post arriving, one of my colleagues (or rather ex-colleagues) leapt up shouting “They’re here! They’re here!”. Now the post doesn’t normally provoke such a strong reaction so I looked passed the 4 envelopes now lying in the post tray to the lifts in time to see two portly gentlemen emerging. Nope, not them. Eyes back to my ex-colleague. “My ladybirds are here! My ladybirds have arrived”. Eyes back to the 4 envelopes. Nope, not them. Eyes back to my ex-colleague.

It was them though. Apparently this is the latest craze. Ordering desirable wildlife online to stave off the advances of less desirable wildlife in your own garden. The ex-colleague was having problems with aphids (greenfly to you and me) on her roses, so had ordered a test tube of ladybirds to let loose in her garden and let nature take care of the rest.

One of the joys of having a roof terrace is that you don’t have quite as many problems with the normal garden pests. The slugs and snails can’t be bothered to make the climb, and the flies… well I’m not entirely sure why we don’t get as many flying pests but we don’t. Until now that is. This year, my roses have been plagued with greenfly and my beloved rosemary is full of beetles - I just googled “beetle in rosemary” to try and bring a little detail to my story and turns out that they’re the imaginatively named “rosemary leaf beetle”. Call a spade a spade…

I digress. Whilst living in France my mum kept a vegetable patch that allowed her to be almost self-sufficient. One year, for the first time, she decided to grow potatoes. The entire crop was destroyed by a particularly nasty beetle - "the Colorado beetle" - drawn to the potato plants. It also destroyed all of the other vegetables that were coming to fruit. The old farmer next door had 70 years worth of experience of the hazards that living off your own land will sometimes bring. He quietly told Mum that she would have to burn the land in order to ensure that all of the larvae had been destroyed. His crop had suffered the same fate and he had lost his entire harvest. It was the year after the devastating forest fires and the second year of draught in France. Losing an entire harvest in rural France in the middle of a draught is no laughing matter.

It is perhaps not surprising then that I attributed this year’s increase of bugs and slugs to the three innocuous looking pots of potato plants. “I know we haven’t eaten any of the potatoes yet but I’m never growing potatoes again!” I announced about a fortnight ago whilst desperately spritzing the rosemary with over priced “vegetable friendly” organic pesticide.

About a week ago the potato plants seemed to be on their way out so we decided to dig them up and see how we’d done. Sadly my bright idea of keeping a vegetable diary hadn’t quite happened so I think they’d been in the ground for about 12 weeks. I hesitantly stuck my hand into the soil, felt around, felt something, grabbed it and pulled. It was a potato alright. It was also the size of a large pea. Disheartened I roughly pulled the rest of the plant out of the pot and there they were. Potato after potato after potato sweetly nestled in the soil little nuggets of gold. I can genuinely say that that was my best moment as a vegetable gardener.

One hundred and twenty two potatoes later I realised we’d have to store them somehow. Google to the rescue. One website told me to store them in plastic, another offered strong warnings against plastic and demanded that I store them in paper. The more professional sites go into detail about the ideal temperature that the root cellar should be kept at to keep them fresh. Deeply unhelpful advice for the inexperienced, flat-bound, urban gardener. I cut my losses and put them in old paper envelopes and wrapped them in plastic. Perforated both bag and envelope to allow some air and put them under the plate drawer with all of the pots and pans. So far so fresh.

I’ve never eaten home grown potatoes before. Simply divine. Perfectly creamy, perfectly sized, perfectly peelable, perfectly potatoey.

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Evolving creativity

I’d love to be able to say that I’ve watched my garden evolve over the years as I’ve matured as a gardener. Sadly that would be lying. An evolution implies a process of gradual change - what happens in my garden is more akin to the half crazed actions of a teenager lurching from teeny-bop pop princess to goth queen galore and then finally back to human.

What I’m yet to work out is: is my garden an expression of me or am I an expression of my garden? Oh dear, how hideous, I can practically see the pretention oozing out of the keyboard as I type.

Let’s try again shall I? We moved into this flat two years ago, almost to the day. The terrace began its transformation from “outdoor space” to “garden” the very next day. For the first 2 or 3 months everything was about keeping things ordered and clean. Neat rows of plants; matching pots; only white and purple flowers need apply. I’ve always seen myself as being a bit of a chaotic person, so no one was more surprised by this new found sense of order than me.

Then the local cheapy shop ran out of the aforementioned patching pots. Disaster. You may think I’m joking, I’m not. DISASTER. I was crippled. The boyfriend made valiant attempts to find me look-a-likes but none were quite similar enough. And then suddenly, just like that, the blinkers were lifted and I realised it just didn’t matter. The freedom.

The next moment of liberation felt a little like being slapped in the face with a wet fish. It went a little something like this...

Me: “Mum, come round for lunch and see what I’ve done with the garden! It’s looks so lovely!”

Mum: “Hmm, I’ve got to say, it looks a little like an old lady’s front garden on the morning that the WI was coming to tea. The lunch is nice though.”

Out with the pansies, in with the lobelias and wayfaring stragglers.

Then along came the bath tub. That really opened my thinking and made me realise that there needn’t be any rules. I could plant anything, anywhere in whatever I liked. And so I do. Old vases, wicker baskets, even a bright orange champagne case found at the recycling banks. What I’d really like is a toilet, just to complete the bathroom set…

I can’t help but feel that this new found sense of freedom and creativity has spilled over into other aspects of my life. Perhaps that’s not surprising. Having the space to create and nurture a living, functional, beautiful environment really is pretty special isn’t it?

The most recent transformation has come about because the terrace has two new inhabitants who have posed a serious challenge for the time, space and attention previously reserved for the vegetables… we now have two baby rabbits

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