The single raspberry says it all at the moment (to continue my pessimistic outlook on produce growing this year); an emblem for the stark appearance of the vegetable beds at present. It’s not totally fair to blame the terrible weather; imbalanced temperatures and freakishly low light levels included, as there are always additional measures that can be implemented. But I would say that I’d love to be a dedicated vegetable grower one year, released from the duties that come with caring for the larger garden as a whole. There just never seems enough time to really get to grips with the full craft of growing food. And I think time constraints have actually played an equally significant role in this year’s struggle towards a decent harvest.
With that said, there have been a few successes so far that have made it into the kitchen, albeit in slightly meagre quantities. The potatoes and broccoli were great, and the herbs raised from seed all did quite well, parsley in particular. And now after the usual slow start, the season of excessive runner beans has begun. You can never have too many runner beans, which is good really as once they start to fruit they just don’t stop.
Lastly, beetroot has been the unexpected winner this year. Although materialising from a later-than-planned sowing, the root bulbs are just as they should be, and taste amazing. Good to know I got something right anyway.
An integral part of working in gardens is in the provision of habitat. It’s common courtesy, as a gardener, to look out for the greater ecology of creatures in their millions that work even harder than we do to maintain the borders, plants and soil. As simple a thing as a patch of un-mown grass or loosely stacked logs can form all the necessities with which a whole world can be created; a practice now familiarly advised in all our nature-related media. As gardeners, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly how far to take this advice, and how to balance gardening and conservation. Some may argue there is a line between the two, but if so, for me it’s a blurry one.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to Pam Lewis of Sticky Wicket gardens giving a talk at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, London. After hearing her describe, along with images of the various meadows and plants in her garden, the nature of her gardening approach, I realised something enormously important about my own ‘horticultural’ development. It seems that the more one strives to learn about the habits of the creatures and plants encountered while gardening, the deeper an irreversible connection is made with them. In just the same way as it is much harder to consume an ethically unsound product once it’s formation is learned, it becomes very difficult to knowingly sacrifice the needs of certain insects, birds or amphibians for the sake of a brighter flower or neater appearance.
In the case of Sticky Wicket, from what I understand, Pam is a (very good) example of the resulting extreme end; slowly shifting in favour of how best to serve the ecology of her landscape, rather than any pre-conceived aesthetics. It was clear in the way she spoke that such a shift only came about through a continued interest in the creatures she observed and stumbled upon while at work, a process that can be wonderfully symbiotic with that of gardening itself.
Of course such a menial thing as leaving a few logs on the ground won’t dictate the mortality rate of a particular species of insect; they’ll make their own homes regardless. After an extensive study of the habitats found in our gardens, Ken Thompson writes of some interesting and conflicting results in his book, ‘No Nettles Required’. Often where measures were taken to provide areas in which certain creatures could theoretically flourish, very low numbers were sub-sequentially recorded.
Making conscious room for our wider garden ecologies may not therefore be a matter of life and death, but an awareness of their needs and importance is definitely a good, and ultimately mind-altering thing. Pictured below are a few of the very basic gestures I have added (or left) in the garden here.