I wonder when the gardening bug will finally strike. When am I going to start feeling like growing my own vegetables? I’ve been waiting a while but so far, despite a fine family tradition and many presents of kitchen garden books, I’m no closer to taking it up.
Obviously I’m writing this to give myself some sort of kick. The photos on this post are of my mother’s garden. She’s a genius, you see. She’s turned an old, hilly Devon farmhouse into an exquisite terrace garden right out of her native Tuscany, full of the most beautiful flora and the most mouthwatering vegetable patches you’ll ever see. What’s more, you can eat your dinner out of them. In the picture above, there are, amongst other things, beetroot (complete with their delicious tops), courgettes (complete with their delicious flowers), spinach, radicchio and two types of rocket. There’s a complete meal in itself, as far as I’m concerned. My mum also grows the most delicious potatoes I’ve ever tasted. Boiled and dressed simply in olive oil and chives, they are heavenly. So why haven’t I done anything like that myself?
I have two little vegetarians at home whose health and well-being mean the world to me. They’re living proof that, with a full and balanced diet, veggies aren’t lightweight, weedy stick insects who blow away in anything stronger than a breeze and who fall sick through lack of nourishment (strangely, those are beliefs that persist – people have actually suggested it’s unfair to bring children up as vegetarian too). I would obviously love them to eat the best food in the world at all times. We easily kick the whole 5-a-day minimum into touch, usually before evening mealtimes, they eat their greens (they love broccoli and green beans) and they get their complete protein via plenty of pulses eaten with grains or nuts and seeds.
Their diet is even more nutrition-based than mine was at their age, but this isn’t a regime inflicted upon them with a parental iron fist – their budding passion for food, their knowledge of exactly what they’re eating and the importance of an excellent diet to them is already apparent to everyone who comes across them. Not eating animals means that they refer to various meat products their friends and family eat by the name of the animal; therefore, they not only refer to people eating fish and chicken, but to pig, cow, sheep, etc – the sort of info a lot of omnivorous parents try to ‘protect’ their children from. They are born foodies.
Naturally, I feel a responsibility in all this. I should at least partly contribute to their nutrition from the safety and comfort of their own garden. How do I motivate myself to get started? Well, it’s in my blood, for one thing. My mother’s passion for her garden was inherited from her father. My grandfather’s gardens were havens, adventures landscapes which fed the imagination as much as aesthetic requirements. It didn’t make any difference to either him, or indeed my mum, how big or small the plot of land was, they always made sure to turn what they had into something spectacular and nourishing for the family.
On the Scots side of my family, my dad and paternal grandfather were also keen and excellent vegetable growers. Apart from kicking my football into his seeds, I never made any contribution my dad’s vegetable plot, except to devour whatever my mum made with the harvest. Perhaps that’s also a source of regret for me. My uncle also has a passion for growing vegetables, and I was always only too grateful to enjoy the fruits of his wonderful succession of gardens. It’s here within me, I have few excuses.
You see, I may have lived in cities for most of my life but, at heart, I’m a country boy, on both sides of the family. I need to give my inner farmer his green fingers and his voice, if not exactly a brand new combine harvester.
When I was younger, I always thought gardening looked a) too difficult and b) too boring. That won’t do anymore, not with the astonishing flavours of homegrown vegetables as a reward for a new hobby. I think I owe it to myself, my brood and our collective, appreciative tummies to continue this fine family tradition.