Common scents

So much to write about, so little time. The last three weeks have been hotter than a Bradford curry and as dry as  Yorkshire wit, bringing everything on in lamb-leaps and shire horse bounds. The strawberries ripened too rapidly, shortening the season and causing many to be left fermenting on the plant. Only too late did I recall the virtues of shade cloth for slowing down growth: it seems like a lifetime since we last had need to call on it.

Its dense green weave now drapes over most of the salad plants on the West Bank Terrace, as we try to brake lettuces’ urge to flower and reproduce once it gets into the 30s. Indoors, we work with leaves Who Love The Sun:  the tropical basils, amaranths, Malabar spinach, purslane, ice lettuce. Their exotic, soft sweet flavour and textures have changed the vibe of the salad bags irrevocably.

The Hungry Gap has exploded, and this week salad, strawbs, basil, beetroot, broad beans, French beans, new potatoes, blackcurrants, cut flowers, celery, cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes are all there for the taking. The growing pains and worries are a memory: our concerns now surround channeling the water flow to where it’s most urgently needed; casting shade; keeping ourselves cool, protected and hydrated; finding happy homes for the harvest; and conjuring up time to pick it all. So, much to shout about.

So many strawberries, so short a season: yet the fallen fruits are not wholly wasted.  Their sweet super-ripe fragrance follows you around the Entrance Field like, well, a bad smell. All over London, wherever flowering plants are tolerated or encouraged, similar heady oils are driving back the stench of the City: honeysuckle consuming garden fences; meadowsweet wafting across the “wastes” of Walthamstow Marshes; Victoria Park’s perfumerie of petunias. The world is inverted, nature rising to the top again.

“Smell and memory are both processed in the same ancient area of our brain”, observes Richard Mabey in The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn. This must be why summer resonances swim so certainly on the garden’s tugging currents of vegetable smells at this time. The umami tang of pinched tomato stems; the crisp suggestion of a suddenly sliced cucumber; basil’s holy tones: all these now sizzle and echo through the glasshouse and pack house, excavating old recollections, and laying down new ones. So much to smile about, all the time.


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