Thrifty Shades of Green
Welcome one and all to the dubious titled Lady Garden. Let your green fingers take a wander through our overgrown bushes to enjoy the fruitful delights that are found within. Perhaps we shall just leave you with that thought and introduce you to the Emporium’s very own Percy Thrower, Lady Emma David …
Hi folks, and welcome! I’m delighted to tell you it’s almost That Time again – you know, that special time we all yearn for from the very depths of our existential core… No, not “Cake Time” – who are you, yes you on the red sofa there – Marie Antoinette? Hrrumph! No, c’mon, work with me here – think green… (although I suppose that could apply the Dauphine’s suggestion if one were to overindulge – but no, you’re distracting me, stoppit!!) Yes, you there, blue chair – I like you – that’s it – SPRING!! All hail the approach of Spring, longer days, a soupçon of returning warmth, and green shoots bursting forth everywhere, like chickenpox, but not red or unpleasant, or… ok, scratch that – no, NOT the chickenpox, it’ll scar – I meant the simile… it was a bit off, wasn’t it… see, that’s the type of shoddy writing you get from me when SOMEONE (mentioning no names but glaring quite pointedly at the crumb-faced and distinctly bilious Marie-A over there… I hope your sofa is reinforced, young lady!) keeps distracting me with CAKE…
Ok, where was I? Yes, the imminent arrival of Spring. Because a large rodent 4000 miles away can’t be wrong, right? (If he is, I’m calling that punk’s attorney)To Phil you in, the Pennsylvania tradition has its roots in Europe, though a bear or badger was the usual prognosticator. The canny immigrants substituted groundhogs once in the US: easier to come by in the new Motherland than badgers, and more manageable than bears… Personally though, I prefer the “olde” traditional tale of the crone living in the woods… by early Feb she would have exhausted her store of winter firewood, and if an early spring was due, then, hey – nothing to worry your warts about – BUT, if further cold wintriness lay ahead, then the crone would simply magic up some sunny weather (see – she’s that kind of crone; didn’t you guess at the point where she knew what the weather would be for the next six weeks, hmm? DO keep up!), the better to gather further supplies of firewood by… Chez moi this year, where we have no badgers, bears or groundhogs, and a plump rat proved too nippy and swift, I used the “old crone” yardstick. We had some bright-enough-to-cast-a-shadow periods inbetween heavy cloud, so enough to gather a smidgen of firewood by, I reckon, but not sufficient to last a full six weeks… So, I declaim with the kind of cast-iron authority you can only get when backed up by dodgy folk superstition, Spring is Almost Here!! Yay!
Which brings me to the main thrust of my article today: I’m hoping I can infect you… not with chickenpox this time, but with… the Joy of Growing. The symbol of Easter – aside from thorns, crosses, betrayal and torturey deaths – is the egg: did you ever wonder why? It’s because this seemingly cold, hard, dead object cradles, within its inert exterior, the promise of new life. Crack! – and a fluffy chick beaks its way into the world! (But hopefully not into your omelette pan: that would be alarming… for both parties…) Now you have that image in mind – not the frying chick silly, the life within the shell – gosh, you’re a tough audience – ok, go on and HAVE some goshdarned cake if that’ll make you more cooperative, dammit!! – yes, along with that image, consider also the humble seed… for it too is a secret guardian of powerful everyday magic… and you, yes YOU, can make that magic happen. (Though you, err… might find it… a tad easier… if you just put down that gateau for a second?)
You don’t need a garden to be able to grow fantabulous stuff. At Castle David, every windowledge is chock-full of sprouty things, saplings, and sundry green growth. In addition to that, we have planters and troughs along the outside walls edging the carpark space – plus while trying to help save a runover cat late one December Sunday, I fell to talking with a nice old lady co-rescuer who lives across the road, and who has offered us the edge-strip of her garden for us to plant out – yippee! – and we’re negotiating some space in a chum’s greenhouse… It’s addictive you see, and practical, and fun. Far from our postie minding his journey to our letterbox necessitating having to limbo, duck, swerve and sidestep in a sequence bettered hitherto only by John Travolta, he eventually confessed to a shared passion for growing, culminating in the swapping of one of our Paulownia tree saplings for some of his raspberry canes. First Class bartering, no stamp required! (actually more of a gentle treading, just to firm the soil down…)
We can talk technical tips in future dispatches if you like, but for now let’s ponder your choice of seeds. Consider the amount of space available to you, how much sunlight it receives, and the type of soil if you’ll be planting directly outside. Many gorgeous flowers are a cinch to grow – nasturtiums for instance – or if you want returns-on-investment to shame the whizziest stockbroker, why not plump for planting some of your favourite herbs and veggies? For a first-timer, I heartily recommend the cherry tomato: they germinate quickly, and all the exciting growing stuff goes on above ground right where you can see it! Plus you’ll be able to feast on sweet fresh tomatoes, or slow roast to keep under herby oil, or make yummy sauces and chutneys – great for bartering or gifting too, if you have spare! The sharing – of advice, progress, AND produce – adds a social aspect to what is already a wonderful and practical hobby, not to mention a highly effective depression alleviator.
Do be warned though that growing trees from seeds /pips – though a real passion of mine – does involve cracking that particular tree’s arcane entry-and-activation code… stands to reason I suppose; to unlock something as spectacular and ultimately mighty as a tree from such a tiny package, you need to prove your worth by performing the right spell! There may be soaking, freezing, prising, bagging, pricking or sanding involved – or some combination of the above, or more: the internet is a rich source of tutorials if you want to see what’s involved for a particular plant. Some are easy-treesy – though be aware of “Apple Pip Lotto”: you may get a treelet of the variety the pip came from, or it MAY be the variety the blossom was pollinated with – often crab apple – so two pips from the same core may well give you two very different results!
Must sign off now and repot the avocados. Even if you’ve not ventured beyond rudimentary childhood cress experiments, or not dug a hole since the last ex “helped strengthen” the patio foundations, I hope I’ve persuaded you to get growing – let’s meet up again soon and compare shoots!
Adios. You may return to your muffins now.
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Welcome one and all to the dubious titled Lady Garden. Let your green fingers take a wander through our overgrown bushes to enjoy the fruitful delights that are found within. Perhaps we shall just leave you with that thought and introduce you to our talented Percy Thrower of the day Miss Emma David …
Hello, readers, and welcome to my Lady Garden guest – spot. Not that it’s spotty, you understand. In fact, I suppose I should start by confessing that I actually don’t really have a Lady Garden at all! Now, I can hear what you’re thinking, and I wish you wouldn’t: I’m not saying I’m, you know, all like Barbie downstairs – I have a child, after all, and she came from the usual place, not from collecting tokens on Mattel boxes. No, what I mean, but am struggling to convey, is that I live in a flat, with my hubby and daughter, and we have no green outside space. Nonetheless, the window ledges, work surfaces, and courtyard (*ahem*: ‘car park!’) edges are completely full of growing things. And by design, too, not just a surfeit of mould and weeds…
Growing stuff has become a bit of a joyful obsession, to be honest. Nothing beats the downright primeval magic of planting a sterile-looking seed, nurturing it, serenading it, and finally seeing green shoots appear. To begin with, most new shoots look the same, but with time they take on their own characteristic shapes and personalities, and the fun really begins.
Currently we have thyme, basil, rocket, parsley and cress; our baby trees include apple (from Pink Lady pips – again, emphatically NOT a euphemism!), Paulownia, larch, fir, and even Flame Trees (from seeds inadvertently brought back from honeymoon in Antigua, concealed inside a painted souvenir shaker thingy); plus we have avocado seeds balanced on cocktail sticks over glasses of water, like toddlers suspended over potties, (only one has a very long root, which would be highly inappropriate on a child), friendly pepper plants and weapons-grade chilli seedlings, a mango treelet, and of course, again this year, the beloved tomatoes.
We had so much fun with the tomatoes last year. Not sure why I chose to grow them initially, apart from the fact I found an old expired packet of seeds, and thought, “What the heck!” Fortunately, their ickily squishy drippy goopy innards are way less repulsive when you’ve grown them yourself. Plus we stocked up on slow roasted garlicky tomatoes and pasta sauce in kilner jars to see us through the winter, and even made yummy chutney with the last tiny green toms before hacking the vines down as the cold weather loomed. (I say yummy – actually it could be a biohazard: we’ve yet to try it, but it hasn’t eaten through the glass yet, so I’m taking that as a positive sign…)
The late arrival of Spring this year left us with a problem. The tomatoes should have been transferred to their outdoor troughs a month ago, but hail, gales and frost are no friendlier to tender young plants than to person-flesh, so we held fire, as they grew ever lankier through jostling for light on the lounge windowsill.
At last yesterday we were able to plant them out. Friends and folks wanted some, so there followed a kind of mini Sophie’s Choice dilemma: which green babes should go, and could we trust their new foster-carers without a rigorous vetting process and contracts signed in blood? I contented myself with lengthy verbal instructions, repeated ad nauseum, and liberally scattered with handwringing and stern glances. I could see how glad they were to leave… eager to get their plant-gifts settled in, no doubt…
And here are our remaining buddies after their first Big Night Out. Marvel at their funky hand wrought bamboo climby cage contraption thingummies (yes, of course that’s the correct technical term!! Don’t question me.) They are held together first with gaffer tape, then by the Famous Five method: with lashings and lashings. Of green twine though, not ginger beer. The latter just isn’t sticky enough. Honest.
And now we can water them and watch them grow. Plus there’s sill room now for a trough of salady stuff. And probably enough space for one more trough outside, without endangering the postman too much on his way to our door. I’m thinking maybe of carrots. Plus, the Grand Planting Out means that summer has finally arrived, whether it likes it – and shows it –or not. And we can look forward to more harvesting, and delectable home-made produce. Glancing through these lovely pictures, [and reading my poem below,] I’m sure you’ll feel compelled to emulate. ..
Ode to my Tomatoes
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
In summer’s heat you painted salad days
With sweet red splodges.
Hubby doesn’t know
You found your way into his curries! So…
We’ve all enjoyed you. From your dodgy start
(A kiddies’kit, years old, pot bust apart)
You grew spectacularly, always thriving,
And showed the joy of growing things to Ivy.
You’ve grown so strong and well, made tonnes of fruit,
And not just any – the BEST toms to boot…
And so it is with sadness, with my scissors,
I’ve cut back ruthlessly the yellow withers.
The rest will follow. Sauces, chutneys planned.
In summer you were sun warmed and breeze fanned;
You would not like the gales, hard rain, or snow.
Kisses and thank you. As the seasons flow,
It’s nothing personal. Just your time to go…
The Lady Garden was bought to you by the slightly soiled Emma David, a freelance writer who resides in the fictional country of Guensey, in the Channel no 5 Isla St Clair (from the Generation Game).