Friday, 16 July 2010

The Vegetable Patch

Occasionally, I really do wonder why I go to the bother of growing my own vegetables. I wonder why I invest all this time and all this anxiety and I wonder if the final result is worth it.

I think about my vegetable patch an awful lot. It takes up space in my brain that might well be given over to other things, to other more useful things. But then, if I didn’t have my vegetable patch, if I covered it in Tarmac and stuck a Swingball in the middle I think that I’d worry that there wasn’t a vegetable patch there instead.

I started growing my own vegetables because we moved to a house where there was space to do so. But then again, I think part of the appeal of this house was that there was room in the garden for a potential vegetable patch. It’s all so very confusing.

My father grew vegetables. Lots of them, and he would huff and puff about growing his vegetables, every year without fail. And my mother, sister and I would feign wonder at the handful of runner beans or potatoes or spinach, which would appear throughout the summer months in the old trug.

Some of my earliest boyhood memories involve tray upon tray of shallots drying out in rows in our London garden. I remember the allium smell and the parchment-paper feel of their skins. I remember Dad, in his special gardening smock and special gardening Chelsea boots, and I remember him helping me to sow radish seeds in heavy London clay. And they grew well those radishes, in the clay, in amongst the turds of neighbouring cats. I have never successfully grown a radish – the easiest of all vegetables to grow – since then.

As a teenager, if my parents went away during the summer, I would be instructed to water the vegetables, to look after them. I hated this, because I was a teenage boy and I was more interested in kissing girls and smoking fags. Teenage boys also hate being told what to do by their parents. I did water Dad’s vegetables though, because I think I knew how important they were to him and I knew how much effort he had put into producing them. And somewhere, deep beneath my zits and raging hormones, I enjoyed seeing the garden grow.

Like my father used to, I now huff and puff over matters horticultural, although unlike him I can dig a trench for my runner beans in a matter of minutes. Dad’s bean trench would take him days to dig and prepare. A spade and a half deep, a layer of well-rotted horse shit, a layer of shredded damp newspaper (the Daily Telegraph for preference), a fine layer of blood fish and bone, and repeat.

And now, as an adult, with a vegetable plot of my own, I worry about the seeds I have sown. I worry about my vegetables from the day that they sprout from the ground until the moment they safely reach my kitchen. I worry that insects or animals will eat them before I do, I worry that unseasonal weather will kill and maim them, I worry about ghastly and terminal vegetable diseases invading my tiny little corner of England and killing it stone dead. Surely, surely, this can’t be good for the soul.
But it is worth it. For all the anxiety, for all the heartache, for all the sweat and tears and foul fucking language that is vented over my garden, it is ultimately so very, very good for the soul. Yes, there will be casualties, yes there will be disease, but when a seed that you have sown and nurtured and loved, survives all that is thrown at it and develops into a proud adult vegetable, well, that’s a very fine thing indeed.


  1. what a beautiful post... ou do it because you love it and there's nothing better or more rewarding than the taste of your own grown produce... thanks for bringing a smile to my face x

  2. Thanks for your lovely comment, and bringing a smile to MY face!

    Whilst one can't beat fresh homegrown veg, I think I mainly do it as a kind of weird therapy. Soil, seeds, fresh air, complete escapism. Bliss!

  3. Lovely. I want that photo!x

  4. This is your sister, by the way x

  5. Hey there, just discovered your blog, what a treat! Ever since I use to sneak down to the bottom of my grandpa's garden to steal peas and raspberries I have wanted a garden. Such a simple joy.