Archive | April 2010

Advice on growing basil from Gardener’s Question Time

Placing it in on the window sill of a north facing window is just about right: it doesn’t like lots of direct sunlight.

Doesn’t like wet feet when it goes to bed: water in the morning.

Also use water at room temperature: basil isn’t a fan of cold water.

Remember it’s a number of individual plants in the pot: not just one (unless you sow one seed).

With care a pot of basil bought from a supermarket’s fruit and veg aisle can last and flourish for at least two months.

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Tales of the unexpected: the allure of the unplanned garden

Gardening is a very anal pastime, very scientific. Order, method, charts and planning. It’s the sort of thing your inner project manager will love. In fact, project managers are known to love it as well, some who don’t even like the outdoors or vegetation. It’s a chance to craft something yourself, map it out, seed it, and then nature, that ultimate driving force, takes hold. With a few nudges from man, of course.

Man can’t help but interfere, help push nature along. Compost to make the plant grow faster? Check! Baby Bio to make the fruit swell abnormally larger? Check! Sticks to tie the plants to like some form of S&M? Check! Even the simplest of gardening tasks, mowing the lawn, requires management skills (every two weeks) and human interference (you’re cutting down something that’s natural urge is to grow higher).

The order, the method, the planning. Those might be some reasons why I enjoy gardening so much.

Then again, there’s the other side of gardening. The side that goes against everything you are told. The multitudes of grow your own campaigns make it sound so easy. Gardening Is Simple, anyone can do it. Sure, anyone can do it. But is it that simple? Does it go to plan? Will it turn out how you imagined in minute detail? No. No, it bloody won’t. That’s the other side to gardening: the unexpected.

It’s only simple if you want to plant one thing, and that thing is the easiest thing in the world to grow. Like, erm… grass? Nothing is simple when you are growing your own. Like ‘nam, there are RULES, and there are CONDITIONS for everything. Take peas.

Peas, you have to put them (knobbly or smooth?) in the ground at a certain time. And then you can’t just leave them. No, you have to protect them because that’s when birds are pretty hungry and little juicy shoots to yank out of the ground. You have to put sticks in for the peas to climb up, otherwise they’ll just flop over. And learning when the peas are juicy enough to pick? Expect disappointment the first time you pop open your first pods to find tiny little green things. Other surprises rear their head and not just with peas, but with everything you can grow. Not all the time, but invariably, like a lover who you make the most ecstatic love with, only to suddenly find one time find the unexpected sharp nip of your nipples being clamped.

And that, comrades, is the irresistible allure of gardening: the unexpected, the unknown, the unplanned, the unforeseen. It makes a mundane by-the-numbers job become somewhat exciting.

Why? Because for all the planning and preparation for the next year done over the idle moments of autumn and winter, you learn you can’t mess with nature. You can work with nature, you can borrow nature’s help, you can enjoy nature, but you cannot completely harness nature (as wind energy through turbines is testament to). Something along the way will deviate from the plan. It’ll be too wet and some sort of rot will set in. They’ll be an invasion of slugs. A crop is taking longer to come up than expected. Things might go to seed before you’ve had chance to proper enjoy it. A cat could take to using your salad bed as a loo. These are some problems. Whatever the issue though humanity is very adept at solving problems, overcoming obstacles, learning from it, and trying to steer itself back onto the path it seeks.

Accidents also happen, but not all are unfortunate. I have some sort of squash plant growing in the middle of a gravel path. Why? A seed must have been dropped there and set in. I could pull the plant up, but why waste a lovely surprise? Courgettes, butternut squashes, or pumpkins – who knows. I’ll just walk round it and leave it be. Nasturtiums have sprung up in the patch last year, where they have self-seeded. I wasn’t planning on having any there again, but I’ll leave a few of those wonderfully low maintenance flowers to add a little trailing colour.

I’m not saying throw your winter homework into the fire and just randomly scatter your seed everywhere. Instead just consider any unexpected changes you may face and try to embrace them. I resisted changing my garden vision to start with, adamant to stick to my increasingly rag-eared plan on paper. But once I relented, accepted the challenges, it became more fun.

If only I could apply that to my currently routine and methodical every-day life.