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December 22, 2009

So my first year of aerial edible gardening is drawing to a close.  As I write my twelfth instalment from the roof I find myself at home, hugging a hot water bottle and wearing several jumpers, ski socks and a pair of super thick woolly arm warmers.  I’m slowly thawing out after an icy bike ride.  It’s only 2.30pm but it’s already a little dusky outside, sleet is expected later on.

It’s the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and it makes sense at this point in my garden’s young history to reflect a little on what has passed over the last few months.  To recall some of the successes and some of the tragedies of aerial, edible gardening 2009…

Let’s start with success.  Top of the list has to be red fruits – my strawberries and tomatoes.  Sitting here on my chilly perch, wrapped in woollens, I can reminisce fondly about many delicious strawbs and toms hanging about my balcony like juicy baubles.  Fruit that was best eaten while wearing shorts and straight from the vine.

Second on the list are sticky leaved tobacco plants.  They were covered in elegant white trumpets for months on end and stood tall in a fug of perfume, being loved by rooftop bees, moths and me.  Third are wonderful runner beans, which weaved a living wall around the roof and provided me with delicious vegetables throughout the summer.  Fourth are herbs and leaves, all kinds of green shoots that have transformed my salads.  And fifth is lavender – a fragrant silver leaved plant that has made local bees giddy with nectar this year.

The tragedies?  The courgette plant I inherited from my mum was one – it produced several flowers but only one rather pathetic courgette before suffering a slimy end thanks to some snails.  I was a bit embarrassed by my courgette failure as everyone I know who’s ever grown them has ended up with loads.  Next year perhaps…

Another tragedy was the cucumbers that never were.  I tried to grow them twice but both times I planted cucumber seeds I got mushrooms!  Way back in early spring my bedroom was rather chaotic as it is the only place I can use as a plant nursery in my minute flat.  I had a few disasters as my room simply isn’t that big.  I tripped over seed trays and sent soil spraying across the carpet on more than one occasion.

It feels quite funny to think a whole year has passed since I decided to expand onto the roof and grow myself some greenish fingers.  The garden now feels like such an important part of the flat and of me.  During the summer especially I spent an enormous amount of time out there.

I’ve discovered that I enjoy gardening in my pyjamas and that growing something from seed, watching it develop and then eating its fruits is truly joyful.  I’ve daydreamed out there and entertained out there.  The garden has opened my eyes to a whole new side of London and urban living.  It has been such an exciting and interesting project and I can’t wait to hatch a new set of plans for it next year.

Back to the here and now and, like last month, the time I’ve actually spent in the garden in recent weeks has been pitifully minimal.  I really am a fair weather gardener, plus there isn’t actually anything to do out there work wise at the moment.  All is fairly tidy, the spring bulbs are in, the winter leaves planted and, yes, it is far too freezing for lounging around.  When it’s sunny and crisp it’s glorious out there, but generally December has been a little gloomy.

This weekend was different – the roof was a tiny bit snowy and crackling with ice.  My brave winter lettuces were dusted with frozen flakes.  Right now more snow is falling and I fear slightly for those lettuces and leaves, which were doing so well until this big freeze hit.  But it is beautiful here in the south east at the moment.  I left London on Saturday and travelled 30 minutes north into Hertfordshire where the snow was far thicker, almost as deep as a welly boot. The sheep had snow beards and, in the woods, huge mushrooms were weighed down with thick icing. It was all very festive and very pretty, if rather cold.

Merry Christmas, more from the north London rooftop next year…  exactly what to be decided!

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