After a bit of sun....
The way in which we are constantly drawn to new and different things as we grow up is all part of ageing. Wine often gets better with age, objects become antiques and their value is increased. I believe the same can only be said about the discipline that is gardening...vegetables that is.
If someone turned round and told me I was going to have a vegetable garden when I am 25, I would have laughed in their face and told them where to go. How times have changed and here I am with my first proper bit of land, which has been turned into a truly amazing little vegetable garden.
Only in the last few years has my interest in growing developed and that began through my passion of cooking, which began through my passion for eating. So, this whole saga along with life goes in stages and there is only one place to begin…when I was 5.
Gardening was certainly not a priority then, but more of a chore. My father would be out with the rotavator roaring down the proposed vegetable beds, churning up the soil and I had to go behind picking out rocks and more importantly worms for our regular fishing trips to the River Ouse. The greenhouse was host to big bushes of parsley, bulging bunches of ripe tomatoes and a whole host of various pots, trowels and other gardening implements. It was on a rough piece of ground next to this I was allocated my patch and as I remember I only grew carrots, and not many of them either. The mind of a child moves on very fast!
When the first signs of green fingers began to emerge 15 years later it was at university, this manifested itself in a) A basil plant on the window sill b) a couple of marijuana plants in a cupboard upstairs. To be fair both did very well but it was only the latter that held any real appeal as a student. From here I realised if I could grow an illegal plant, which wasn't even meant to grow in Britain’s harsh climate; I could grow anything. I studied Archaeology whilst at Newcastle and I had begun to specialise my studies in Hunter- Gatherers and the dawn of the Neolithic age, this gave me a different angle on the origins of what we eat and why, the domestication of plants and animals and its spread throughout the globe. So it was also to a certain degree in archaeology that lead me down this garden path (pun most certainly intended).
Thankfully we all grow out of being students very quickly and once I had come to London, got a job and my first flat, I decided now was the time to up the stakes. I had no real idea of what I was going to grow, let alone anywhere to grow it, being on the third floor of a small building just off Battersea square. I did however, have stacks of enthusiasm and a set of double doors with a juliet balcony with big steel railings. The idea came to me one evening as I was standing at the balcony; a sort of hanging window box would be perfect for the job. My cooking skills were becoming better and my range of recipes expanding, I wouldn’t be able to grow much but “container” gardening sounded very appealing.
This is the stage at which growing vegetables becomes firmly engrained in oneself, the fundamental building block on which all future gardening experiences, good and bad are laid. Container gardening is ideal for all that have a balcony or even a window sill, therefore perfect for city dwellers. To those of you who already have green fingers, I salute you and you know exactly what I am talking about. During my daily commutes, I would stare out of the train at all the disused gardens and empty balconies and wonder why more people hadn’t cottoned on to growing their own.
I am a firm believer of the phrase “if you a job done well do it yourself”, what I needed was not a run of the mill window box from Homebase, but something more sturdy and able to fit my balcony railings. As I worked as a set designer, I had an entire workshop and plenty of scrap wood to play with. Once I had knocked up a box that was a 1.5m x 50cm x 50cm, painted it black, varnished it and attached chains for hanging I was ready to go.
What to grow? As I mentioned earlier your knowledge increases with experience, so I went for herbs and salads, a great starting point. In my box I had a simple armoury of Sage, Thyme, Parsley, Bay, Chives and Rosemary. The rest of the space was left for Spinach, Cayenne chillis, Lola rosa, Rocket and Raddioccho. Not a bad repartee, I am sure you will agree. I felt that these worked best for me because they are mainly for flavouring my cooking experiments and fresh salads for starters.
The key to my success was for three reasons. Firstly, aspect. My window box was positioned so it got sun for most hours of the day. Secondly, my growing medium (essential for a good start and excellent results) consisted of 60% organic soil and 40% organic compost. Finally, I was three floors up and had no risk of slugs, snails and other insect problems. The only problem that did occur was the wilting of some of the lettuces due to lack of water and the spinach, rocket and lola rosa running to seed because of too much sunlight. Here I learnt two valuable lessons for the future.
It would not be for another year that I would be faced with a greater challenge as far as growing vegetables goes...and one that would allow for more variety and even greater potential.
This was it...