Midsummer was quite unremarkable. It had been dull and damp all day, like most of June. There was no radiant sunshine nor the humid heat that marks the early summer in London. In fact, wrapped in my cashmere cardigan and woollen trousers it felt pretty much like autumn, apart from the luscious green and occasionally splash of colour in the gardens.
Verdant but wet
Leafy plants and weeds alike have grown rampantly during the unexpectedly wet May and June.
The potato planters are hidden by domes of green leaves, which – judging from the first handfuls of potatoes harvested – are a sign of plentiful activity below the surface. Our thyme and sage have spread vigorously casting their heady aroma across the back of the garden. And the runner beans that escaped the voracious slugs are reaching the top of their willow supports and sporting bold scarlet flowers whilst the tomatoes are steadily turning their spent flowers into tiny green tomatoes.
There has been a price to pay for the abundant rain though. The lettuces and salad leaves that normally mark the end of the ‘hungry gap’ rotted before they were strong enough to hold their own. And whilst the early pot-grown Chantenay carrots are providing crunchy thinnings for the salad bowl, the later sowings failed to germinate. The beetroot have barely fared better. My disappointment was however eased slightly upon hearing that the carrots sown by Bob Flowerdew – the dulcet-toned guru of organic vegetable growing – had suffered the same fate. At least, I had not made mistakes, the failure of my roots was due to the elements.
Pick of the thinnings and cuttings
Despite the lows, gardening is inherently an optimistic activity. And the returns – though modest due to the size of our plot – cheer the spirit. A fortnight ago we picked our first broad beans. As a dozen pods hardly constituted a portion, we supplemented them with more from our local greengrocer’s. Following a ritual comparative tasting of our precious broad beans, Mr M declared, without a hint of competitiveness or smugness, that ours were fresher and more subtle in flavour.
This season also saw our gooseberry bush come into its own. Before we headed off to Greece it was heaving under the weight of tough green berries and by mid-June the little fruit had transformed themselves into plump tart gooseberries. Thinning out the heaviest branches provided enough berries for a pie, with the second thinning resulting in two jars of gooseberry and orange chutney.
This year, longing for colour and frivolity, I added flowers to our tiny front garden and back bed. I lovingly planted out seed-sown nasturtiums, stocks, calendula, bells of Ireland, godetia, cornflower… in May. In the past few weeks the nasturtiums erupted in all their orange and red glory. Their vibrancy cheers me every time I pass the landing window and is radically changing my relationship with colour. And my heart leapt when the jolly calendula blooms appeared, drawing hover flies and ladybirds that are (hopefully) gorging themselves on the hordes of aphids.
And then there are the stocks… These country garden flowers may conjure up images of aged spinsters in twinsets and pearls but you cannot beat them for fragrance! Planted out in pots on the steps to our front door, their heady scent delights us every time we venture out or return home. Lack of planting space has necessarily curbed my ambitions so abundant bouquets of cut flowers were never really on the cards. However, a few sprigs of stock teamed with a cluster of roses in a bud vase bring the scent of summer into our home and more pleasure than a bouquet of resource hungry imported flowers.
As I move into the height of summer and brace myself for the vagaries of the British weather, my attention moves from sowing to tending the summer vegetables and planning autumn and winter crops. Months of watering (possibly), feeding (definitely) and harvesting (hopefully) lie ahead but for now I can celebrate the early successes and enjoy the satisfaction of meeting at least some of our needs and wants from the produce of our ‘micro-holding’.