It has been a ‘disappointing’ season in the garden. It actually feels wrong to use that word. Despite the endless rain of the spring and early summer, we have managed to grow delicious potatoes, tart gooseberries and beans of two varieties. Thanks to late summer sun the tomatoes have pulled up their socks and ripened nicely, and then there is the sage… But there is no denying it: compared to last year, yields are down.
Gardening, however, is an act of hope. It is also an exception in this age of ‘entitlement’. As gardeners we dig and feed the soil, sow and plant, tend and nurture but we have to accept that we are only part of the equation. There is so much beyond our (immediate) control: rains and wind, poor pollination due to less biodiversity and of course, the hordes of slugs and snails! On the flip side, the rewards are plentiful, even in ‘poor’ seasons. The smallest success can feel like a triumph and personal discoveries are as exciting to gardeners as scientific breakthroughs were to the botanists and naturalists of old.
Last year, potatoes were the major ‘discovery’. This year, sage played a starring role and not just because of its abundance!
The specimen I planted out must have loved its conditions. As a Mediterranean herb I treated it to one of the sunniest spot in our north-easterly facing garden. And despite all the rain, it thrived, probably due to the drainage in the back bed. Before long it spread and spread, turning into edible ground cover, and sparked new projects, explorations and connections.
Experimentation in the kitchen
After fragrant omelettes and pasta with sage and brown butter sauce, I stretched my repertoire with sage pasta. Not a sprinkling of sage over pasta but fragrant sage-speckled pasta.
Although I have been making my own pasta for nearly a decade, I had not considered dabbling in flavoured pasta until this year. The lush sage bush triggered a whim and before long I was chopping fresh leaves finely, tossing them in the durum wheat crater and kneading in oil and eggs before running the fresh dough through the pasta maker.
As Mr M mopped up every last morsel, I shall definitely serve more of this pasta! And I am already considering what other home-grown produce I can add to my linguine, papardelle and cannelloni sheets…
From the potting bench
This year I also made my first foray into growing from ‘cuttings’. Apart from buying a few plants, like the fruit bushes and some herbs, most of our micro-holding has been raised from seed. However, as sage is notoriously hard to propagate from seed, this was the spur I needed to try my hand at taking cuttings.
With the help of my trusty RHS encyclopaedia and the demonstration on Gardener’s World, I selected suitable cuttings in late afternoon. After stripping the lower leaves, I popped them into a mix of compost and perlite, tucking them in against the cool damp edge of the terracotta pot. A sprinkling of water and cover fashioned from a clear plastic bag and a rubber band finished the operation. Then the waiting began, punctuated only by turning the bag inside out each day.
After a few weeks, my heart leapt. I spotted fine roots growing out through the bottom of the pot. My cuttings had taken! On closer inspection each cutting had grown young new leaves: tiny, soft and silvery green. As I admired them, I felt as excited as a child discovering how frogs develop out of spawn and tadpoles.
Gifts on the porch
As with any garden bounty, there is a strong instinct to share. On the one hand, it feels greedy to monopolise and hoard nature’s gifts; on the other, I hate seeing good food go to waste because we accidentally grow more than we can eat or store. I have therefore been leaving jam jars of sage and thyme – the other happy herb in our garden – on neighbours’ porches. These small offerings may enliven somebody’s meal after a bad day in the office, spark a desire to grow their own food or even just be the start of a conversation. A small connection maybe but a breakthrough in a city where getting to know your neighbours can take years.
So whilst the carrot crop may have been feeble and the beetroots minute, the balance sheet of the humble sage makes particularly good reading!
Pot of sage – £4.99
Cost of watering – minimal thanks to free rainwater
Handful of compost and perlite – pennies
Terracotta pot – pennies from the junk shop
Return on investment
Meals – numerous and varied
Pasta making – reinvigoration of an existing skill
Propagation – half a dozen new plants + excitement about a new skill
Connections – conversations with two neighbours.