It’s early days yet, but I’m quietly confident that this is going to be a bumper growing season. Mind you, I thought the same last year, and things didn’t quite go as I’d expected. There was the usual war with nature as wave after wave of slugs and snails ravaged the tender leaves of lettuces, munched their way through the stems of the French bean plants and left their mark on the courgettes. I found one bloody snail about 2 metres above the ground, bivouacked like a mountaineer among the leaves of the Marvel of Venice beans. There was patchy germination, blight, beetles and vegetable mysteries for which I have no adequate explanation. At least I was spared the ravages of deer, badger and rabbits that my friend and fellow seed saddo, Stevie, has to contend with.
Growing vegetables – or plants of any kind, I guess, although I’m less interested in things I can’t eat – is one of each year’s abiding miracles. You make a shallow trench, sprinkle in tiny, dust-coloured grains and cover them over. A few weeks later fresh, pale green shades the ground where you sowed, not perhaps in the lines of military straightness you dreamed of, but spirit-lifting never the less. The fresh, pale greening fills out, takes shape and bit by bit the veg beds – I have three like the one above devoted to vegetables and one to fruit – gather on a sense of purpose and productivity.
Radishes – French Breakfast, Sparkler 3 and Scarlet Globe all mixed up this year – are always the first. Wonderfully dependable, radishes, and they always look perky. These will be ready to start munching in a day or so. My favourite carrot, James Scarlet Intermediate, an old Victorian variety, has made cracking start, while another carrot, St Valery, is looking distinctly anaemic. I have absolutely no idea why. Beetroots of various kinds are showing through, and what will become that wonderfully blowsy lettuce, Grosse Blonde Paresseuse, is just in its tender infancy.
I’m not a scientific gardener. I don’t study form, measure acidity or do soil analysis. I sow and I hope to reap. And by sowing and reaping and cooking and eating I learn a great deal more about the qualities and characteristics of pareticular fruits and vegetables, what they can taste like, what they should taste like. Take carrots, for example, some are round, others long and tapering, others still broad-shouldered and thick all the way down. Some are sweet and some not so sweet, some have a distinctly petroly note when raw that disappears when cooked, some have a meaty quality and others are fruity and some have absolutely no flavour at all.
That’s why I take such exception to the words ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ to describe tomatoes, carrots, beetroot and other vegetables for that matter that appear on far too many menus. The words become mere marketing devices and tell you nothing about the qualities of what you’re about to eat.
Anyway, enough ranting. Here’s a list of what I’ve planted.
James Scarlet Intermediate
Jaune de Doubes
Cheltenham Green Top
Old Egyptian Round Rooted
Grosse Blonde Paresseuse
Rachel’s American Cut & Come Again
Merveille de Piemonte
Ne Plus Ultra
Glory of Devon
Champion of England
Costoluto di Parma
Costoluto di Firenze
Noire De Crimée
Red Duke of York
Looking at this list, I realise that’s it’s a ridiculous amount to cram into a small garden. We’ll see how things turn out, but, for the moment, hope springs eternal.