Here on Pig Row the sun is with us once more, the chickens are scratching in the orchard meadow and the dug earth of March has been turned to a fine tilth by the rain. Sometimes nature does the job for us gardeners. Under clear skies and above warm soil my wife and I are whirling dervishes, our son on his picnic blanket looks on, clutching his smiley face toy and barking noises at us. The noises sound very like ‘do it faster’, ‘hurry’ punctuated by the clear words, ‘din dins’. These two little words halt us in a carefully planned operation that involves planting out hardened off onions, sweet peas and peas.
We have learnt to ignore ‘din dins’ at our peril. We know we have around thirty seconds before our son reaches critical levels and will crumple into a ball wailing the other clear word he knows, ‘abuse’. There is a running argument at Pig Row how he has learnt that word as he is well fed, cared for and kept safe even when gardening; the picnic blanket is situated in a travel cot under a large umbrella and he gets his five a day, the emptying allotment proves this. It has come down to two possible influences, CBeebies and BBC News 24, two of his favourite channels. He likes the Ceefax facility on the latter and it is mainly a way of him showing his prowess with the remote. He has gone through three remotes and one WII remote in six months.
We like to get him out in the garden to avoid wrestling the remotes off him as he toddles to the solid kitchen floor to deposit them loudly and with much cheering and clapping, from him.
My money for the singing way he says ‘abuse’ is on Mr Tumble but my wife believes he is more likely trying to say ‘a bus’. The bus is his favourite morning toy; it’s not a real bus but rather a small model of a red London bus which he refuses to throw on the kitchen floor.
We scramble, we feed our son, take time out to appreciate where we live, the rolling hills, the milling swallows that swoop and dive under the eaves of our house and across the valley we can hear the tannoy from a local gymkhana. We eat, my wife digs out cake and a flask. It still amazes me after thirteen years together that she can still sneak picnics out of the house without any sign of a picnic basket on her or even the rustle of tin foil.
My wife the covert picnic maker.
I have seen her nonchalantly pull sandwiches out of one pocket and a bottle of something out of her sleeve, then provide me with a pop up wine glass. Unfortunately, wine is out today, vegetables and flowers are in, the emptying borders beckon.
We start up our cycle again from greenhouse to cold frame to the final planting position.
It may seem late to be planting out to some of you but the season comes late up on Pig Row, being on an exposed hillside on the Yorkshire Moors means that we have to be careful when we plant out and though the new hornbeam hedge is now a luscious green it is far from being a windbreak. To me, there is nothing like a good clipped hedge, and though this hedge is barely two foot high, I can’t help running my palm across the growing tops as I pass from bed to path to greenhouse. The smell lingers on my fingers, the smell of spring locked in its leaves.
After several hours devoid of television, with a few breaks for drinks, playing with our son, dancing him around the garden, we have beds full of onions, their green necks waving at us. The sweet peas are in, punching up to the sky on several home made tripods, four eight foot sturdy bamboo canes sunk into the soil, lashed together with string weaved around them to give the plants support. The rest will be planted against the chicken wire fence bordering the eastern boundary. The chicken wire is firmly stapled to a wooden three bar fence which keeps out the dogs and rabbits.
The peas are planted in the shelter of the utility shed and we take time to do a row of direct sowing, this will give us a staggered harvest rather than a glut of peas. Though a glut of peas is no bad thing. As trays of plants pour out of the cold frame, they are replaced by dozens of courgettes and pumpkins. Last year was a bad year for my courgettes and pumpkins but this year I planted around fifty of them and all fifty came up. We will have a glut but a glut that we can barter with or sell over the garden gate to passing ramblers. We have already agreed to swap several pumpkins for a few punnets of raspberries from a friend. Our new beds of fruit are only a few months old and it will be another year before we get our first raspberry and we cannot go a season without them. That is the great thing about gardening, if we can’t eat it, pickle it or jam it we can make friends by bartering with it.