It’s May and I have strawberries! I am ridiculously excited. They’re green and tiny, but I’m anticipating great things in a few weeks time. My very own glossy red baubles, delicious eaten straight from the hanging basket or perhaps floating in that glass of Pimms I’ve been daydreaming about for at least two months.
The mint is also doing well, its leaves are the brightest of greens and taste wonderful. So my ‘cocktails enhanced with home grown produce’ plan is definitely on track. I did try to grow cucumbers as well (cucumber being such a good addition to cool summer drinks) but that didn’t work out. I planted cucumber seeds and got a crop of mushrooms. Odd. Tall, slender, elegant looking fungi, beautiful even, but not quite right for adding to drinks. Anyway, I’m seriously pleased about the strawbs.
The growing green jungle
The roof is starting to look a lot greener. Most of my seedlings are flourishing outside full time now. I went away for two weeks at the end of April and when I got back I couldn’t believe how alive my tiny little terrace looked. The runner beans have clambered up the side of the house, weaving themselves around the bean poles and netting I hung up for them. They have flowers now, orangey red flashes the shape of tiny light bulbs. They look a bit like fairy lights strung festively on green wire across my white walls. And the tomatoes are getting bigger and more impressive. I replanted a few of them into an organic grow bag last weekend and they are very happy.
I owe a massive thank you to my wonderful flatmate Ria who took such good care of the roof during my two week disappearance. I got home from hols at about 2am on a Wednesday morning and, unable to go to bed or sleep due to the buzz in my post holiday head, I stepped out onto the roof. I admit I was worried how it would survive without me (!) but it looked stunning. Nothing like an absence to make the heart grow fonder and it was such a relief to see it looking healthy. Ria – all is thank you!
So, my two weeks out of London and away from work were utterly fantastic! I was in Gambia in West Africa, where two of my friends are doing an education project, twinning Gambian and UK primary schools. I spent some time with them visiting schools in remote villages. It was really interesting to see how gardening is part of school life there.
We spent a morning at Sotokoi Lower Basic School and the headmistress gave us a tour of the vegetable garden, a plot maintained by local mothers with the help of the young students. They sell the produce and the money is then saved and used to provide loans to families who find themselves unable to pay school fees. Sorrel and okra were doing especially well at the time of our visit, and the gardeners had just planted a crop of banana trees around the edge of the site.
The fruit and vegetables on sale in the markets were delicious. It was mango season when I was there which was such a treat, fresh mango for breakfast, lunch and dinner was a pleasure! It always feels terribly exotic to see mangoes, bananas and papayas dripping from huge, gnarled trees, many of which were the shady focal points of villages or school yards.
I had a great conversation with a gardener who worked at the Bakau Botanical and Medicinal Gardens. Speaking with Saliteh in his potting shed, I thought how universal and unifying growing things can be. Travel hundreds of miles from home across the desert and you can still find yourself talking about kitchen gardening. It was pretty fun having vegetable growing in common with some of the people I met. My inner city roof garden couldn’t be more different but we still had lots to talk about.
Drunken women and neon planting
Back to that inner city roof garden, one of the things I’ve done recently is some fragrant night planting. Joining my jasmine and honeysuckle, both of which are loved by moths, I’ve now planted some evening primroses (one in a colander, which looks great) and tobacco plants. All this in preparation for some serious, sweet smelling moon bathing to take place once the evenings warm up a bit. I’ve also sewn a few more seeds. A new plastic trough is now officially a salad box, planted with the wonderfully named drunken woman lettuce, plus a Provencal salad mix, rocket and basil seeds. One week later and the trough is already full of tiny sproutlings.
My neon pink planter has proved a semi success so far – it is very radish heavy. I planted the box with French breakfast radishes a couple of months ago and they are doing really well. The other half of the box was planted with pink flamingo beet, which has done less well. I only have one chard plant after sewing a generous amount of seeds, but that’s fine. It has gorgeous purple-ly pink highlighted leaves and I’m drowning it in a lot of love and attention. I’m starting to eat my produce now too, although not the chard! There’s been fresh coriander with curries, parsley sprinkled on top of stew and mint leaves in salads and mixed with yoghurt. All very delicious and very exciting.
In anticipation of summer
Last week I wandered over to Borough Market during a lunch break from work. Borough is a fantastic farmers’ market just south of the Thames, under the railway arches of London Bridge. I bought a punnet of strawberries and lazily admired the various growing herbs and salads that were on sale. The strawberries tasted amazing, like summer, and it was lovely sharing a quiet moment with a random bunch of Londoners, all of us leafing through plant pots and indulging in a bit of spring sun.
This bank holiday I’m going to do more salad sowing I think and also just hang out on the roof. I’m really looking forward to inviting friends over to indulge in warm evenings on the roof with me soon… And now we’re back to where we started, with those persistent Pimms daydreams…