Monday, 4 March 2013

A god in my garden

Late winter light and shade.
As the march toward spring continued, the forecast weekend sunshine arrived on cue, providing the perfect opportunity to spend quality time outside.

There was plenty to do, but the weather was such a convincing call to action that it felt effortlessly enjoyable.

Out of the breeze, the sun had real warmth, and with the brightness that dominated both days, it was intoxicating.

Saturday’s activities surrounded the potager; ground was prepped for sowing and plastic tracking, strenuously linked together, was laid down to provide a pathway between planting areas.

And then, in three spots, were sown peas (Meteor), broad beans (Witkiem Manita) and – probably wildly optimistically – some runner beans (Painted Lady). All are now covered with plastic bell cloches.

The runner beans shouldn’t really go in for a while, but as Monty Don said last year, if we’re going to get so much grey – and rain and god alone knows what else – then maybe we need to rethink some of the old formulas a bit. It’s certainly worth a try – not least as part of my learning process.

Stencil: Columbia Road.
Later, wigwams will be erected next to each group, and more seeds/plants added to (hopefully) ensure lengthy and generous cropping.

It was exhilarating: even the fact that I found myself wondering if I really had a clue what I was up to was joyful in its sense of unregimented experimentation and the attempt to do something so positive.

Over the weekend, various people commented on my progress. There was the father of one neighbour I don’t know who wished me luck, but then seemed fascinated to learn that the soil that he assumed was dismal should be home to countless worms.

Then there was Michael, the neighbour who had done so much to strip the weeds out of my patch once I’d started last year, and who is now so tickled and excited by the whole project that he’s decided to address me as Percy Chucker.

I feel faintly guilty at being so possessive of it – although Michael has a patch in the flower bed nearest his flat, which he also cleared last year, while Lisa is intending to make the most of the middle bed.

Everyone will be welcome to use the flower seeds that I seem to be accruing regularly as freebies.

Light and shade in Columbia Road.
And for Anca, who also wants to get stuck in, I’m going to get lovage seeds: she has just one small plant in a pot and relishes what it brings each year.

So this is not a one-sided relationship.

It’s funny really: of those of who know each other and speak regularly (about half the flats), we were all were peeved with the way that the housing association-employed garden contractors had let things get overgrown and out of hand, but we did nothing.

It was only my greedy desire to grow more that kick-started something last year.

Thus it was a group of us, one bright Sunday last year, that pulled down and cut away the climber that had covered much of the ivy on the carpark wall, had grown over the lights and was spreading out from the wall to the small tree that stands at the heart of the potager.

So as things warm up and the days stretch out like a cat on a warm hearth, it’s not difficult to imagine days when there will be gardening activity across all three little plots; gardening shared and enjoyed communally.

Choosing: Columbia Road Market.
On Sunday evening, Les delivered another 240 litres of organic, multi-use compost, which will help fill the space vacated by the rubble that is now heaping up against a wall beyond ‘my’ area.

This provided pleasant early-evening labour after work today and will be continued tomorrow. I’m hoping the area will be okay for sowing carrots and turnips by the weekend.

And how extraordinary to hear an early dusk chorus from the plane beyond the wall; so many different songs making me wish I knew each call.

But the patch also welcomed a new resident on Sunday afternoon, after an exploratory amble down Columbia Road produced a blackcurrant bush.

It’s not an easy fruit to buy fresh: something like 90% of the UK’s domestic blackcurrant crop goes straight to Ribena – an insult to a fruit that, used properly, whether as the base for a sorbet or a good jam, is gratifyingly grown up.

Which is why it’s the fruit bush I’d prioritised over any other – much as I love gooseberries and fantasise about making my own redcurrant jelly.

And of course, this is the time of year to plant fruit bushes, so the timing was perfect. Frankly, at £5.50, if it produces three punnets of fruit this year, it’ll have paid for itself already – and it looks lovely and healthy, with a mass of buds foretelling growth to come.

Otto exploring the potager.
According to a variety of sources, blackcurrant requires a deeper hole than you’d imagine; needs fertilising straight away (it got some organic seaweed food all over the root ball) and will need mulching in the next few weeks – so another trip to Hackney City Farm will be required, if only for a bag rather than a barrow of manure.

In the meantime, there was plenty more sowing to undertake – two more trays of 40 cells apiece, now nurturing two varieties of strawberry, four varieties of tomato, lettuce, more radishes and spring onions – and chard.

Chard? I’ve never even eaten it (to the best of my knowledge) but it was a free packet that was languishing at the bottom of the tin, so it seemed eminently sensible to use it.

My goodness: this is addictive!

But what pleasure and what a sense of something real as I rubbed compost between my fingers on Sunday, dying them black; and as I pressed seeds into the moist dark, a god in my garden, granting the opportunity for life to grow from what seems, on the surface, like shriveled death.

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