I read about ‘white wine gardening’ (in Red in fact) a few years ago and I’ve had the image in my mind ever since. It was one of those puff pieces, commissioned to sit alongside the other aspirational bumpfh to which we women can become so addicted (much to the scorn of S’s of the world) such as ‘if you only buy one pair of flats (this week), buy these’ and ‘how to wish your way to a pay rise’. But as it contains, as Julie Andrews might say, two of my favourite things, I’ve held on to that particular piece of aspiration and am trying my very hardest to aspire. It refers, as you may already have imagined, to pouring yourself a glass of the cold stuff as you meander through your low maintenance garden on a balmy summer eve, deadheading as you go and pulling at the odd weed. And whilst it’s not an official horticultural term and I’m fairly sure my TV crush Monty Don wouldn’t know of its existence, it’s exactly the kind of gardening I fancy myself as doing.
Gardening isn’t really something I know very much about. It’s a fairly recent, in the grand scheme of things, hobby for me and whilst our shelves are weighted down by many an informative tome on many a horticultural topic ….to include organic gardening, companion gardening, garden design and grow-your-own (anyone notice the obvious omission here?)…..the information they contain doesn’t always stick. That said, through my pop-it-in-the-ground-and-see approach I’ve had some successes….a gorgeously fiery-flowered honeysuckle for example (part of my cover-those-fences strategy) which is romping away happily.
And a colourful bed of penstemon, heuchera, salvia and grasses which seems to look satisfyingly coherent, mostly thanks to the advice of my green fingered friend. (Hmmmm, that’s a sorry looking purple acer at the front there which has a few gloriously dark leaves but praps needs a prune?)
Elsewhere in the garden it’s a bit more hit and miss, testament to my supermarket-sweep style of shopping as I pick-n-mix my way my way through a garden centre choosing a bit of this and that. …. I can’t, despite knowing and appreciating the impact of a garden with a restrained planting scheme, discipline myself to adhere to one. There is simply too much tempting candy in that sweet shop. But I can try to limit myself to a colour scheme and for the most part that rule seems to be working and I try to stickto purples, pinks and greens. However, the odd bit of yellow appears here and there and so slowly I’m trying to integrate it further rather than let it remain as the sticking out sore thumb. And whilst of course most of my beds are now fully planted….in fact some might describe them as being over planted…this has the added benefit of me rarely needing to weed as there’s simply no room for a weed to squeeze in.
So in that respect I’m on track for a summer filled with glasses of white wine.
I always start it full of enthusiasm and well-meaning but in actual fact this is the very moment the trouble starts and gluttony takes over. Unable to determine from the boastful catalogue descriptions which variety of French bean will be best for me and my plot, instead I buy 36. The very real fear of not having a Marmande amongst the Gardeners Delight, Chocolate Cherry, Tumbling Tom and Sungold means I buy a rainbow of tomato seeds without the space to nurture any of them to prolific fruition. I ambitiously stock up on brassicas whilst knowing full well that we have a resident Cabbage White butterfly on watch who swiftly radios in an army of mates to decimate my crop overnight. I buy mysterious crops such as asparagus pea and scorzonera without having ever seen them, let alone understood the growing conditions needed or even cooked with them. And I buy crops like rhubarb, raspberries and asparagus that like to stay put year on year and then move them fancifully as my gardening plans change. The result? A jungle of tomatoes, beds full of doily-leafed broccoli, a lifetimes supply of runner beans fruiting within the space of a fortnight and not very much else.
So this year, with restraint and control the name of the game (and white wine on ice) I thought I’d do things differently.
Firstly I’ve packed away my mini plastic B&Q greenhouse and will forget all about raising plants from seed. Instead I ordered my plot ‘ready made’ from Rocket Gardens at a bargainous £25 (or thereabouts) on Black Friday last November. It included tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, herbs and salad: all things that we eat and are exciting for children to see growing. It didn’t contain celeriac, caulis, crown prince squash and golden beets and all the other bits and pieces I find myself adding to my virtual shopping basket each year. Therefore, I figured, the enforced curation might mean that I stay focussed on seeing these plants do well instead of allowing my over enthusiasm to scupper the entire plot.
Having a clear idea of what was going to arrive also meant that I was able to get myself prepared, planning it out on paper in advance of the garden’s arrival so I knew exactly what was going where. Of course I immediately regretted handing over my third raised bed to O last year to use as a sandpit…..as I always do at this point in the year where everything seems so very possible when it comes to grow-your-own. Come August, when I have a string of disasters to my name, I’m all too ready to hand over the beds to anyone who will take them. But right now I’m busy trying to squish everything in so I’ve bought extra pots to house salads and have moved my beans to a strip of a bed I’ve fashioned in front of the fence alongside the (ailing) lawn.
To give them additional credit, Rocket Gardens give plenty of warning before your plants arrive, thirsty and homeless, on the doorstep so my two raised beds, pots and lawn-strip had been prepped in readiness. Rocket Gardens also assume no prior knowledge of gardening at all and so full instructions are included.
The leaflet encourages you to extract the plants from the straw in which they arrived immediately, and group them together in their families in readiness for planting. Once home from school O helped me give the unpacked plants a quick water and it was there they had to stay for a day or so until I managed to create a window of a few hours in my working week when I could get the plants in the ground.
This ‘window’ wasn’t the only thing opening up. It coincided with a freak period of torrential rain and before long a hole in the road opened up too and swallowed a car. I kid you not. So, for that day at least, our little spot of London was made quite famous……and its homeowners quite anxious …..as they imagined their houses and gardens going the same way.
More concerning to me than the threat of more ground opening up (I’m of the optimistic ‘it’ll never happen to me despite living 100 metres away’ school of thought) is the much more imminent threat of crustaceans and their non-crusty friends munching their way through my embryonic garden. Word has gone out to all snails and slugs not currently marvelling at the sunken car in the neighbouring vicinity to head over to the Pebbledash Pad where a takeaway of fresh young seedlings has just been delivered. And these are no ordinary creepy crawlies. They are creatures with a severe case of OCD and they have chosen to begin their meal from left to right, systematically wiping out a bean plant at a time along the fence where I staked all 16 of my fresh young things.
The peas were for pudding and all 30 were binged in one gluttinous sitting. As yet the lettuces haven’t been touched, some are a little more protected in lines of pots tucked behind the shed, but the dwarf beans have been started on and I fear the chard may be next.
Drastic measures have therefore been employed and nematodes….some kind of parasitic worm which eats the slugs from the inside out (barbaric in the name of organic) have been watered into the soil and I now await the slowing of the devastation. Meanwhile I’ve been back online and re-ordered beans, peas (which I now envisage growing in wall hung planters) a bonus crop of sweetcorn and artichokes……… as summer wouldn’t be summer if I didn’t have at least one extra crop surplus to requirement that I know little about and am destined to turn into a disaster.
So whilst I’ll admit the wine has now been poured, it’s more as a antidote to stress than an accompaniment to calm. But surely that’s something the pros would endorse?