Picking Patient Peppers

The changes have been ringing around the glasshouse this last couple of weeks. The sheer green curtains of tomatoes and beans – seasonal furniture – have been drawn away, and we are reduced to the slight carpet of winter salads.

The tomatoes have been a particular triumph of interior design this year, situated as they have been in the north bed of the West Wing, peering, directly and curiously, in on the organised chaos that is the nursery office. So throughout the season, as the workers have gone about their admin, the cordons have crept up the view, ultimately filling it and pressing their red cheeks against the glass, like out-of-time Christmas trees with bawbels across the room. The room that is barer now, no matter what screen saver we might load onto the computers.

From difficult beginnings, the “Kew Blue” climbing french beans (beans which, our Parisian volunteer Paco assures me, the French seldom eat) quickly screened off the potting benches from the rest of the glasshouse, had a fine year, and were received well wherever they went. As we unwound the crispening haulm from their string supports,  we were able to retrieve enough ripe seed for planting next year;  some for eating as a pulse – for ourselves if not the market; and a few for seed swaps, to get this rare and beautiful heritage cultivar disseminated wider.

The only  survivors from the sub-tropics are the peppers, which just keep on, slowly but surely, until the hard frosts come. The sweet peppers have been in the wars: rats gorged themselves on them for a while, and blossom end rot has been an ongoing problem, in spite of redoubling our efforts to get the irrigation levels right. So yields have been low and some time ago I largely wrote them off, deciding to focus time and attention on more promising candidates.

Then last week, on the last note of the tomatoes’ swan song, the peppers piped up with a good crateful of red fruit to brighten the farmers’ market stall on a chilly Sunday in November.

Autumn, or rather, every season in the garden brings such reminders of how fundamental  patience, alongside responsiveness, is in this game.  And this was one of the subtexts of OrganicLea’s tenth birthday party and awards ceremony last week. Introducing the awards , Clare likened the project’s growth to that of an apple tree: we are now  fruiting, but only after much patient plodding and formative pruning. It also takes a long time to grow old friends, as they say, and there were a heart-warming number of those in evidence on the night. At the Occupy London Stock Exchange on Tuesday night, Reverend Billy preached on the “radical patience” required to build communities of resistance.

Maybe time is on our side after all.



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