Posted by: Natalie | March 28, 2011

Green Fingered?

I can’t keep house plants. They die. I don’t think fault can be apportioned to the house, or the plant if I am honest. No matter how ‘simple’ the required conditions or how ‘easy’ the plant may be to keep, no matter how careful and caring I attempt to be, no plant survives my touch. Seriously. And a couple of years ago, I spread this planting specialism into the garden and made myself a mini vegetable plot.


The bottom of our garden Summer 2009.

I was quite pleased at first, the shoots sprouted and green became visible for a good amount of time. My pumpkin plants even became relatively huge and birthed tender spirals and one small, solitary, tennis ball sized pumpkin. Before long though the carrots failed, the onions receded back into the grown and before my tiny pumpkin could even hint at turning colour a strange white mould seemed to take hold, rotting the leaves one by one. My pumpkin was inedible. I did glean some chillies and tomatoes though, but I technically didn’t plant these – but that wasn’t without disaster. While away one weekend my tomatoes suddenly became too heavy, snapped the plant, fell to the ground and mostly rotted in the sun before my return. See, even my vague successes are tainted with doom!


But I am not disheartened. I may be a hideous gardener and something of a threat to any plant-based-life-forms but there is something so satisfying about spending time in the garden. We had beautiful gardens growing up. I would watch my parents, hour upon hour, weeding and mowing, sewing and planting, pruning and trimming – filling my childhood with blossom, grass cuttings and pennies for sweeping privet cuttings. When the sun shone it was a terrific place to run around, barefooted and carefree not once understanding just how much time and effort went into providing such a lush playground.

They also kept a vegetable patch and green house. My brother and I were even allowed our own section although I can’t imagine we put in the effort actually needed to produce the fruits and veg. These are some of my more vivid memories; digging the potatoes from their mounds on a weekend, supplying the next few days with fresh carbohydrate goodness, to be chipped and boiled and roasted; peas would be podded fresh from the vine and were lucky if they escaped an eating before returning through the back door, nothing ever in my life has tasted so fresh and sweet; watching my Dad with the vacuum cleaner, hoovering away the caterpillars that infested his cabbage although there were always those to be missed, allowing the white cabbage butterflies to play happily around in the sun.


I grew this! The wind then broke it.

But it was the greenhouse that always enticed me with its transparent heat – a place with warmth only replicated before the open fire in winter. Knowing now they could never have been, but I was in awe of the sweetcorn, monsters of the vegetable world, towering above me, hugging and hiding its ears as if some secret waiting to be shared. The papery feel of their wrappings always surprised me, as did the fluffy grass-like heads which sprouted so far out of reach. The whole place was filled with the gorgeous smell of what I was yet to learn as the Mediterranean. Tomatoes green and red and yellow, ripe and round and succulent – again lucky to make the journey to our kitchen. Even to this day there is nothing quite like the taste of tomatoes grown fresh on the vine, given the love and care and time required to burst alive with flavour and juice. The smell stays with me. It is one of those I can imagine so vividly at times as if I am still that tiny child stood within a shining doll’s house filled to the rafters with enormous leafy plants. Plants which, give them just a little more time, would hide me entirely from any onlookers of the little glass house.


I have grown up with this memory and constantly reminded by smells and tastes in cooking. As I have often commented, tastes transport me and could take me anywhere in a moment’s notice. Fresh vegetables and pleasant flowers take me back to that home with the gardens; make me feel the grass between my toes and the soil beneath my fingernails, blonde wisps of hair falling around my face. I may be a terrible gardener but these thoughts and memories are so clear and important that it makes me want to enjoy the garden in the same way my parents once did. The sunshine also helps.


View back up to the house, again taken in 2009. I did nothing in the garden last year but watch the rain!

So this weekend Steve and I set to having a tidy, reviving the borders and shrubs to make it look less, well, dead. Beneath the death mask of leaves, over shoots and winter remains there appears to be semi decent garden. And considering the general lack of effort required on both our parts, our outdoor space could be a hell of a lot worse. The lawn is still something akin to a field in places – I am not sure if it can be classed as a lawn with some many peaks and troughs – and the ‘wild flower bed’ is more than a little bedraggled, but there is certainly promise. The honey suckle climbing the once-upon-a-time car port struts are coming along a treat and I can’t wait for their sickly scent to fill to sun spot at the very end of our long, thin yard. But there is more promise than this; I am attempting to grow edibles again!


This evening in the newly lingering sun I began my hopeful crops, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, cucumbers and another attempt at pumpkins. With my make shift plastic green house (very, VERY lose description!) put in place to keep off frost and encourage warmth, I may with luck harvest at least one vegetable this year. But there are a lot of variables, an awful lot of time and several digits which could be lost between now and then. For some planting seems to come easy. For me, I suspect the garden will always be something of a mysterious challenge which I will constantly fail to master. But I don’t care. Something which sends you back to your childhood has got to be worth doing, surely, no matter how unsuccessful!


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