by Tracey Thorn.
August (and July).
Missed last month’s column, I’m afraid. As many of you probably already know, my Mum sadly died at the end of July, and in the weeks running up, and the weeks following, I wasn’t really up to doing anything much, let alone writing a semi-humorous article about my vegetables.
The column I missed out on writing was the one where I was going to describe the school summer fete. For the last three years I’ve done the plant stall. It started as a casual suggestion in the playground, and then snowballed into a labour of gardening love which now dominates the spring and early summer for me. Basically, whenever I’m sowing seeds, I sow some extra, and pot those things on to sell them at the fete. Tumbling Tom tomato plants, courgettes, aubergines, sweet peppers, basil, window-boxes of salad leaves, cuttings form my scented geraniums – I end up with about four car-loads of stuff to transport round to the school. But this year might be my last for a while, as the thanklessness of the task has begun to defeat me.
Like a dog-breeder reluctantly handing over puppies to a neglectful-looking owner, I hate selling my plants to people who so clearly are going to kill them.
“This courgette plant”, said one parent to me brightly, pointing at the lovely flower-tipped fruit balancing on the edge of the pot, “will it have any MORE courgettes after this one?” Probably not, in your hands, I stopped myself replying.
A teacher toyed with one of the tomato plants. “So, at the end of the summer, do I just cut it down to the ground, and it will come up again next year?”
My favourite this year was from the archetypal hard-to-please north London mother. I’d never seen her before, but she came and stood in front of the plants, fingering them all disdainfully. Finally she deigned to speak to me. “Tell me,” she said suspiciously, “where do all the plants COME from?” clearly suspecting that some kind of non-organic scandal was being perpetuated here in the name of gardening for charity.
I think next year I will take a break, and just run the tombola.
Anyway, that was back in June, and from July onwards, as my Mum fell ill, the garden inevitably got neglected. The dwarf French beans became infested with blackfly, beyond the point of being controllable, so I left them to it, managing to pick only one colander-full of beans. They were beautiful once I’d rinsed and scraped off every single sticky black bug, but the sink afterwards looked disgusting, the site of a blackfly massacre. Some of the lettuces were left to bolt, and the tomatoes were underfed, so the leaves now have a yellowy drained appearance, and look about as appealing as a pair of stone-washed jeans.
But yes, there have been moments when the pottering round the garden, doing little jobs here and there, and watching things carrying on with their cycle of growing and producing, has been as consoling as you’d expect. We’ve eaten lots of lovely things made from varying combinations of courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes and basil, to the point where possibly we don’t actually WANT to eat anything else made of those things for quite some time.
And now the late summer decline has begun, and the inevitable downward curve towards winter seems right and proper this year, when my mind, of course, is occupied with thoughts of endings.