Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A Growing Addiction

My addiction started in a small way. At first I limited myself to growing herbs on my kitchen windowsill and progressed to a single tomato plant. I also embarked on a never ending war of attrition against the Japanese Bindweed in the garden. When I bought a share of the freehold, I took it upon myself to tackle the tall hedgerows lining the garden path and that was it. Such regular and close proximity to the garden had me hooked.

I decided to divide the garden into three distinct areas for planting purposes. The lawn is a separate entity. The ground in front of the hedge would form the core of my herb garden. The ground under the 150 year old cherry tree would be my vegetable patch and the shrubs would be tidied up and space made for flowering plants and new shrubs. I also used windows inside my flat and on the communal landings to grow yet more herbs. chilli pepper plants and different varieties of tomatoes.

The herb garden proved a great success: I grew oregano, chives, mint, clary, bay, sorrel, savoury, tarragon, lemon verbena, camomile, lemon balm, pennyroyal ,parsley, sage, rosemary and of course (lemon) thyme. I am hoping that many of the plants will survive the winter and flourish again next year. A friend’s brother gave me a host of shrubs such as myrtle, roses, hydrangeas, most of which are still going strong. I was delighted to receive a small buddleia as there used to be a mature plant next door, whose top branches were close enough to our fence, for me to snaffle some blossoms for my flat. Annoyingly the whole of next doors' mature garden was rubbed out by the developers. Yet now it is verdant again, principally with bindweed! Flowering plants that graced the garden included gladioli, iris, geranium, primulas, violas, lilies, nasturnums.

Once the indoor chilli peppers had turned red I harvested them, deseeded and chopped them up before freezing in ice cube trays to be later added to stews etc as required. My courgette plant produced only a single small vegetable. However I was determined to cook it and chucked it in with some pasta. The many courgette flowers I stuffed with mozzarella cheese, freshly chopped tarragon and honey and then fried in olive oil. The stuffed flowers can also be dipped in batter and cooked as a tempura. I only managed to grow about a dozen strawberries and gave them to friends with as much solemnity as if I were presenting them each with a rare truffle. I grew a single cucumber the size of a ridge cucumber but without the textured skin. It was delicious. The tomato plants created a mini indoor jungle as they hogged the light coming through the hall window. Fortuitously, Nigel Slater gave a recipe in the Observer for Red and Green tomato chutney allowing me to make two generous jars full. I have a small but perfectly formed red bell pepper growing in the hall along with some baby aubergines and a green bell pepper plant which is flowering.

On the whole my other vegetables have failed to flourish. The squash has not yielded any vegetables despite producing flowers and apparently healthy leaves which look to swamp the vegetable patch. My purple sprouting broccoli only sprouted vigorous green leaves. Snails, slugs and squirrel were not the only pests I had to contend with. As I came down to the garden one day the Original Freeholder (OF) proudly informed me that he had been weeding my vegetable patch and had thrown all the weeds away.
“Where are my spring onions”? I demanded in sheer disbelief. He had failed to observe the plastic marker emblazoned with the words: “Spring Onions” and embellished with a helpful colour image of the plant in question.

My gooseberry bushes and blackberry bush look to have established themselves but I don’t expect any fruit until next year. I might still have some Brussels sprouts growing though. I planted Alpine plants along the top of the garden path on the basis that if they could survive an alpine environment, they ought to survive a barren piece of land. They and the fever few have now established themselves and will need little further maintenance.

My addiction has become so great I find myself watching gardening programmes and scrutinising newspaper supplements for handy tips. If you factor in the time I actually spent gardening then the resulting produce would be worth its weight in truffles. But I doubt if even the choicest truffle could give me as much pleasure as a spoonful of my home grown chilli and tomato and chutney or match the delicate taste of my cucumber.