Out of the Shadows

After two years of active waiting, the asparagus crop is coming thick and fast. A fleeting, rare delicacy at the best of times, we’re especially precious about these tender stems right now. The floods and cold spring have stilled the dawn of the British season: the national shortage seeing the cancellation of the annual Asparagus festival. Our crown jewels have weathered frost and, so far, the flooded terrace, and now seem unstoppable: future fracases with horsetail and asparagus beetle hold no fear for them.

Marko and I were on the West Bank on Friday, prizing out the light-footed shafts from Subterranea for Saturday’s stalls. Turning back at the end of a long row, I swear some of the shoots had grown in the time we were going over them. You could never calculate how many bunches in the bed: more would keep popping up whilst you were counting, like blessings.

The glasshouse has been an ark of a blessing the last forty days and nights. It’s given us somewhere to stand whilst watching the ducks swim amongst the spinach, and enough of a microclimate to bring on the early lettuce, in marked contrast to the standstill outdoor specimens. Whilst much of the ground has been too wet to walk or work on, we’ve been able to keep ourselves busy at the propagation stations, seeing to it that the seedlings are potted on and pepped up for the annual round of spring plant stalls.

This extra attention has ensured that the tender veg plants look remarkably good considering: more proof of the Chinese proverb “the best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow”. And the early signs from the stalls are that, despite the Great Outdoors being greatly inclement right now, the call of nature is still drawing green fingered citizens out.

The success of plant stalls, like all stalls, is somewhat precarious. Even on the May Day weekend, plant nurseries’ equivalent of Christmas time for sales, bad weather means bad takings. As community gardeners though, we believe that if someone can’t afford to buy our organic tomatoes, we can at least offer them the means, and information, by which to grow their own organic tomatoes, for a smaller initial investment. And free conversations happen: little interactions amongst little people; lives change in little ways. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Not much warmth, but the rain has eased, and we were finally able to set foot in the Old Kitchen Garden. Some of us were shocked at how well the broad beans – as well as the weeds – had come on: tall and flush with their two-tone flowers. It seems we’re coming to that time of year, when things grow out from the gardeners’ shadows; grow without you, without a care, without sunshine even, it appears.



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