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JANUARY wassailing & sprouts

January 17, 2011

Despite the vigorous attentions of my resident squirrel, I have bulb sprouts in my pots.  I am amazed.  My netting deterrent system was clearly more efficient than I gave it credit for.  There are garlic, daffodil and crocus shoots, and maybe an alium.  I’m yet to plant my anemones, which is down to sheer laziness.  The bulbs are sitting on a shelf above me as I write, wrapped in a paper bag with “PLANT ME” scrawled across it.  This shouted self instruction hasn’t yet worked.  My main excuse is that the place where I want to plant them has some escapee chervil growing in it.

My lack of planting is symptomatic of having an unoriginal case of the January blues.  Cold and wet weather has kept me out of my roof garden, but discovering these sprouts has given me new energy.  As well as eating that chervil so I can plant those bulbs, I’ve also decided to clear some space so that I can plant a few indoor crops.  They can either be permanent house plants or move outside when conditions are more clement.  Chilli, cucumber and sweet pea are my seeds of choice, for no reason other than I’ve acquired home grown seeds of all three from friends.

Another reason my interest in growing has been renewed is that it’s wassailing time.  The 17th of January apparently used to be Twelfth Night in days of yore, and is considered the right time to yodel at your fruit trees in order to ensure a good crop in the coming year.  Wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘waes haeil’ meaning ‘to encourage’.  The tradition involves pouring cider on the roots and branches of the most prolific apple tree in an orchard, and hanging toast in its branches for the robins, which are considered the guardians of fruit trees.  The wassailers make much noise to drive away evil spirits and wake up the sleeping trees.

I haven’t been singing to Hugh my rooftop hazel (although I have been admiring his handsome catkins), but I’ve been helping to wake up some other trees.  Yesterday evening I headed down south to join the Peckham Pickler and friends in a wassailing jaunt across Burgess Park.  We were a small and eclectic group, brave enough to roam about in the dark and rain praising trees.  With lanterns and samba drums, we visited cherry, plum and apple, gave them cider and woke them up with alcohol and song.  Ice cream van symphonies and the shouts of over-excited children merged with the wassailing cries, which you can listen to below:


It was rather brilliant to be wassailing in Peckham.  I’d never been to Burgess Park before and had a small explore before meeting the others.  The plane trees and their furry baubles looked beautiful in the half light.  The park’s about to undergo a massive redevelopment and plans include setting up some kind of community food growing project.  Although the attention is welcome and the food element a source of genuine excitement, some Burgess Park regulars worry about the future of their much loved fruit trees.  As we walked down a path lined with wild cherries, Penny the Peckham Pickler described the park as her countryside.  The park supports important wild crops that need to be respected and protected.

Back in north London, I feel like the wassail woke me up as much as the trees.  The roof has woken up too.  The birds are incredibly vocal at the moment, singing into the wee small hours and starting up again well before dawn.  I have a new regular robin visitor, my jasmine, lavender and lemon balm plants are all sporting new growth, and yes the bulbs are starting to sprout.  After a freezing period of hibernation, I think it’s time to start developing a new rooftop vegetable growing plan for 2011.

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