Friday 22 July 2022

Gardening with a dodgy knee # 7

Despite the relative warmth in March we had a really cold spell at the beginning of April. I’d just sanitised the greenhouse - ready for the pre-ordered tomato plants - and didn’t want to lug my lemon tree back in there. It really is a small tree now and too heavy to lift if you’ve got a dodgy knee. And it might (might) have introduced bugs that the new tomato plants couldn’t handle. But as the lemon tree is so much heavier to shift now I wouldn’t just have had a dodgy knee - I’d more than likely end up with a slipped disc - if I lifted it. Yes I do need a trolley for manoeuvring my maturing citrus monster.

I decided to chance it and leave it outside. Friends have friends who leave their lemon trees out all winter - but mine hadn’t been hardened off. I feared it wouldn’t cope. 

I wrapped the once-protected tree in fleece, then bubble wrap and finally in a third layer of tarpaulin. All the fledgling lemon fruits were carefully protected too. We were expecting below freezing temperatures - cold winds rather than ice or snow - but potentially devastating for a mediterranean plant which had known such cosseting. 

By 11 April the cold winds had dropped. It was our wedding anniversary and we went out to Dyrham Park for a walk. The temperatures had picked up. We lunched in one pub on the top of Lansdown and had our evening meal in another. Covid was less of a threat by then.

Next day I needed to know the truth. Had my citrus plant survived the week of chilling winds? I carefully unwrapped the first tarpaulin layer. No errant lemon fruit had dropped off in the cold, as far as I could see. I removed the bubble wrap layer. Still all looked good. And finally I took away the fleece. And what did I discover?

Not only had ten semi-ripe lemon fruits stayed in situ: the plant’s leaves were still green, with no sign of frost damage and - even better - baby flowers were just forming. The gamble had paid off. The tree simply needed watering as its compost was dry.

Phew! I hadn’t lost my citrus wonder. 

I almost went into my new shed ( aka Nina’s gin palace) and poured myself a g&t with a slice from my brave, beautiful lemon tree.

But, on this occasion, I didn’t.

More next time.  

Wednesday 6 July 2022

Gardening with a dodgy knee - the Midwich Cuckoos edition

You would expect any link with John Wyndham’s novels and the (super) natural plant world to be about ‘The Triffids’, wouldn’t you?  Walking monstrous plants with tendrils that blinded any human in their path could be readily associated with gardens and plant life.  But, in my case, I liken tending to my lemon tree, climbing beans and tomato plants as a scene from Wyndhams ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. In my thoughts it’s plant life, not children, that have dominance over us, their humble gardeners. Truly. I do. 

My waking hours since returning from Dorset are dominated by these livings things. I have reminders on my phone and horticultural calendar about their feeding and watering regimes. I daily check that the climbing beans are free of predators. Every other day the tomatoes need water. (Then it’ll be a daily ritual.)Every week the lemon tree needs watering with its citrus feed. If it was this time last year I would be putting a parasol over it to protect the lemon tree leaves from the sun’s rays. It’s treated like a baby. A baby in the nest. A cuckoo. 

Daily I check the temperature in the greenhouse and see whether the tomato flowers have set. Now that the tomatoes are about twenty times the height they were when I placed them in their first pots they need staking. And if their flowers have set I need to give them tormorite feed in a week’s time. 

I don’t have a posh greenhouse so I leave the window open to allow tomato pollination from flying creatures. In order to ensure no overwintering bugs nor blight would weaken them I washed the greenhouse down with a Jeyes fluid solution before the darling plants ever stepped foot in there. Mustn’t upset the plant life or they won’t deliver.

It’s exhausting! 

And now - because we allowed ourselves a four-day holiday the herbaceous borders are paying me back by sprouting bloody bindweed.

So needy. So demanding of my time. Are the plants, like the Midwich Cuckoos, talking to each other? Causing me to change my indolent behaviour in order to give them my undivided attention?

I know I sound as if I am raving like a mad woman. I am, as far as I know, perfectly sane. But I feel the beans, lemons and tomatoes, in particular, need such a lot of support, both physically ie with canes and in terms of nurturing. They are, of course, plants that grow in south America and on the Med. That, rather than my mad notions of thought control, explains why they need so much tending. They are, when thinking more rationally, warm weather plants. 

For years I grew dwarf french beans. Absolutely no bother. No staking. No special temperatures - providing no frost was due. No special watering nor feeding required. No bending, even, as they grow in raised beds ie on legs. I check them at waist height. 

This year relations sent me six romanesco brassicas. Three look remarkably healthy and strong. One is non-existent and the other two are struggling. They are not my choice of vegetable. I’m inclined to nurture the three strongest plants. And now I read they need mesh over them to stop the pigeons. What? Even more slave labour??

But will the vegetation-hive-mind get to me? Will their dominance over me force me to nurture all the plants in my care so that I daren’t leave the garden?

Or, do I do as a friend - now a winner of medals from the Royal Society - once suggested? 

‘Let’s go on holiday. Bugger the beans.’

Yes. I have been watching the ‘Midwich Cuckoos’ starring Keeley Hawes on Sky max. It’s all about control. Find someone daft enough to grow you on from seed to seedling then conjour a fate worse than death if your carer hasn’t given you every attention.

Is this why my eye blew up to twice its size 48 hours ago? Had pollen got under my eye lid causing redness, copious tears and great pain? I bet it was the plants. Getting their own back because I was cutting them down. 

They’re watching me, you know. 

Next year it’ll just be spinach and dwarf beans. Now give me nightmares, why don’t you?