Gardening doesn’t come naturally to me. I was born in the middle of London and raised between there and a tiny house in central Wellington. Although my very resourceful mother coaxed a family-load of vegetables and herbs from a few square feet of dirt in Tinakori Road, the urge to till the soil never rubbed off on either of her sons – or her cockney husband, for that matter.
Ironic, then, that I should end up with 25 acres of perfectly good growing land, but maybe not surprising that I can manage only a pocket-handkerchief vege plot.
This fact was pointed out to me by a recent vistor who questioned why it is that I have things growing in big pots on the deck (she’s always asking pointed questions). I told her, truthfully, that it was because I already had the pots and I was sick of them lying around sprouting weeds. She didn’t believe me. Then I agreed with her that maybe I’m living an urban lifestyle in a rural environment.
But I’ve been thinking about that, and I’m not sure that we live much differently from many of our farmer neighbours. They have flat screen TVs and espresso machines. They have candle-lit dinner parties and welcome their pet dog inside (although not necessarily at the same time). Crikey, some of them even have European cars. And they don’t all have sprawling vege gardens or kill their own meat.
My little plot – and the offending terracotta pots – is just the right size for me to tend and for my family to pick from. It’s usually got some lettuce, some rocket, chillies, chives, a few spring onions, parsley, coriander when it’s not seeding, and my favourite nadine potatoes. In the cooler months I grow leeks, broccoli, and lettuce. We also planted some fruit trees the winter before last and the nashi tree had half a dozen sensationally sweet pears a few weeks ago. There’s a heritage apple and a quince, pear and, I think, plum, plus a fig and a walnut tree. Oh, and the essential bay, nearly cut off in its infancy by territorial hares.
And my little plot always features tomatoes in the summer. Until recently I’ve grown a few heritage varieties, and always liked the “Black From Tula” from Kings’ seeds. This year I discovered a Supertom which had had the Tula grafted on to it, and what a revelation that’s been! One $8 plant has kept us going all season with sweet, dark fruit, plucked ripe and still warm from the summer sun. (An enduring memory of a trip to Italy is calling in to a rural roadside café, asking for a salami and tomato sandwich, and the patron ducking out the back to pick the tomato.) But the tomatoes in the pots were a letdown. Maybe they were feeling too urban?
I’ve come to really value my humble plantings, silly as they may look in the expanse that could be occupied – perhaps like me, a city boy transplanted into the country.