Games Without Frontiers

Out there, the big summer of sport is just hotting up, but at Hawkwood our sports season is at its climax. In the Race to the Sky, Jo and Jairo’s climbing bean selections are ahead neck and neck, or rather, apical shoot and apical shoot. It will literally go to the wire: that is, the top wire of the glasshouse apex. Following their progress day by day has been pretty exciting.

Then on Wednesday, the third annual Horticultural Games took place. Their were some outstanding performances, with Nicole shredding the women’s world record for Salad Tossing, and John coming from nowhere to win the Potato & Knife (a plant-based alternative to Egg & Spoon). In the overall team competition, the Vines lifted the flower pot trophy, despite stiff competition from the Fruit, the Vegetables, and the Salad team, who held on to their Tug of Peace title with nonviolent determination. At the end of the day, as they say, it was the Big Team of OrganicLea that won: coop members, volunteer workers and course participants, coming together to celebrate midsummer – one of the two most important days in the Gardening Calendar.

Next to this very particular playfulness, professional sport seems seriously abstracted. Yet most games began this way: as seasonal, local recreation that often demonstrated and developed skills and strengths that were useful to the society. Athletics is based on Greek military training; early bike racers came from the massed ranks of cycle porters and couriers; and village football was a veiled rehearsal for rioting.

A while ago that beautiful magazine The Land envisaged a future where the Olympics had mutated into the “Global Village Games”, with international scything and squash growing contests replacing the current “pointless acts of physical prowess”. Soon, the Lea Valley will be polarised: on the lower banks, a unique territory of natural regeneration and surviving manufacturing industry has been flattened into a placeless setting for two weeks of corporate–dominated athletic spectacle. It will be busy and vibrant. The security forces will see it is safe, whatever the cost.

Upstream, you might still find that sense of gentle liberty; of stewarded wildness and ad hoc leisure pursuits, that characterise England’s waterways and commons. Chuck a right and you might find a glasshouse where everyone’s beans touch the stars, and cyclists load their trailers with land race tomatoes.

If you ask me there’s no contest.

Relaying the News and the Olds

It’s taken a little time, but we’re now closing in on the dream where the harvesting schedule is an endless, effortless relay, one seasonal delight pouring forth just as one fades away. This year the rhubarb has run over to the spring garlic; up sprung the asparagus, and as their shoots leave, in stream the strawberries. In the near distance be the broad beans; on the summer solstice horizon, Bulls Blood beetroot; then we’re into the glowing days of abundance, then the autumn harvest festival, then the winter brassicas: all underpinned by year-round salad leaves.

It is the first year of cropping asparagus, but the strawberry fruit are on their way to becoming a familiar feature. On Friday, on cue – two weeks after laying the mulch, one week after netting, almost as if we’d planned it – the first ripe pick. Forty mph winds lashed the rain against us, a far cry from the good day sunshines of fruit picking memory. A third of the crop had to be chucked or consumed at point of pick: slugs and botrytis all too active in this weather, which has also watered down the flavour somewhat. Still, after the storm, what a gift: crates of bright red summer stacked in the warehouse, reeking of goodly sweetness. I was found with my head over the punnets, snorting them: Stefan suggested charging ten pence a sniff. They’re probably worth more.

The perennials and glasshouse crops are growing apace, but these long cooling off periods are stalling the outdoor delights. Field cultivations continue to be aborted as heavy rain makes the soil unworkable. The Entrance Field has been a meadow or pasture for at least two and a half centuries, probably more: it is likely part of the medieval halke – nook or enclosure – in the wood, that gave Hawkwood its name. The Field and its company of grasses are old old friends, and it will take us many carrots and sticks to persuade it that flowering plants are generally preferable. Weeding the grass out of the Field is, at the best of times, the horticultural equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge. Right now from our place of resignation, it’s more like the Bridge of Sighs.

That’s the thing about old relationships: they take a long time to make, and a longer time to break. The strawberries are nippers to the grass, but they are already beginning to belong here. The fan trained peaches and gages are starting to fit, and tomatoes and beans form the default summer skyline. The community market garden is coming home.