A Ballad to Salad

This week, we again find ourselves in the finals of the Urban Food Awards, run by SUSTAIN’s Jellied Eel, the essential journal of ethical eating. A change of format this year sees the award categories based on product, so there’s recognition for the best cheese, sausage, beer, bread; whilst growers’ interest will be focused on the “London Leaves” contest.
In recent years, we have seen the emergence of the mixed leaf salad as a concept and a product, from supermarkets to farmers’ markets, from gourmet restaurants to pub grub. This new thing is, as is often the tradition with new things, in essence bone-creekingly old. The earliest humans, and their primate predecessors, grazed on a range of edible leaves: for the earliest Britons, these would have included wild celery, chervil and cresses. As we shifted from hunter-gatherer to cultivation, salads were among the first cultivated plants: here, beet leaves and sorrel would have been key parts of the diet, whilst Romans later introduced lettuce and endive.

Renaissance gardeners developed new varieties of salad, and in the seventeenth centurythe herbalist Culpepper made much of the health virtues of “salading” plants. John Evelyn, one of our earliest garden writers, wrote Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets in 1699, committing to the posterity of print the oral tradition of the cottage garden, a cornucopia of plants intermingled, with no sharp distinctions between ornamental, vegetable and medicinal, neither in the garden nor on the plate.
It’s unclear to me at what point the decisive shift from saladings came. What can be said for certain is that, by the 1970s, one particular salad combination had become utterly dominant. This is, of course the trio of crisphead lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Note that the latter two items are not leaves but fruit, and form the basis of Lea Valley glasshouse production from before the War to the present. Note also that, whilst this three-piece band may well be considered a classic, their period of hegemonic power coincides with the relegation of salad from a dish in its own right, to a side, treated by many as a garnish to be left uneaten.

Hawkwood's hand-crafted salad mix, september 2015

Hawkwood’s hand-crafted salad mix, september 2015

Turn and face the strange: I believe London, our increasingly unfair city, does right now happen to be one of the most exciting places in the country for salad, though I do realise that using “exciting” and “salad” in the same sentence may seem a little contradictory, even to those this side of  the Garnish brigade. That’s why, whoever wins this week, to paraphrase the football pundit’s cliché, “at the end of the day, salad growing’s the winner”.
Whoever wins, Growing Communities, one of the other nominees, deserve much of the credit for London’s salad growing renaissance. When I arrived there at the turn of the millennia, salad leaves were already recognised as their key product, in terms of impact if not land area. I assisted Brian Holden, to whom the salad bag was so much a vindication of permaculture gardening; and was encouraged and directed by (appropriately enough) Director, Julie Brown. Her application of the permaculture concept of zoning to food production, posited, amongst other common sense things, that urban growers could and should concentrate, first and foremost, on highly-perishable, highly intensive salads and leaves, whilst the right place for bulky field veg is, naturally enough, the hulking fields of the “rural hinterland”.
This schema, the “Growing Communities Model” of legend, prompted, in 2014, a reorganisation of the GC’s Urban Market Gardens, so that they grew almost entirely salad leaves. This required me to devise a salad rotation, to seek out new leaves to fill that rotation, and trial and error a range of approaches to cut-and-come-again, successional sowing and relay cropping. Almost as breathtaking as such horticultural jargon were the advances in techniques and blend recipes. When Hawkwood happened, I tried to take all the learning up the Lea and continue to push on there, where our 89 varieties of leaf and 42 edible flowers that made up the mix last year, only tells half the story. Meanwhile, Sara; Paul; Sophie; the Patchwork Farmers and the committed volunteers, have made GC salad a firm fixture in their box scheme and many shops in and around Stoke Newington, and last year scooped a national Soil Association award.
Spreading like wild rocket, now all community gardens that have an enterprise element, and many that don’t – from Sutton to Acton, from Crouch Hill to Enfield – have drawn inspiration from these East End pioneers, or from a broader zeitgeist, and developed their own methods and mixes which, arising from their particular soils and situations, have resulted in salads the same but different, all as unique as the boroughs they grow out of.

London Rocket. September 04 2015 Photos: Martin Slavin

London Rocket. September 04 2015 Photos: Martin Slavin

Here at Hawkwood, we welcome in the autumn equinox , and the winter leaves: the chicories, mustards, baby kales, begin to replace some of the softer summer offerings. Our range and proportion of different types has stabilised since the early exuberant days of experiment and discovery, though there’s always another trial or tweak: Sculpit and Caucasian Spinach here, an extra bed of watercress there. Our salad bags span the entire history of salads, from the Chervil and Celery leaf of prehistory, through the Romans and renaissance plants: the endive and rocket, to recent introductions such as Texel Greens and Shungiku. From the well-known lettuce to cult classics like sorrel and corn salad. From “exotic” novelties like ice lettuce and ceylon spinach to London peculiars like Walthamstow Yellow Cress, London Rocket and Amaranth “Tower Hamlets”. It’s a vegetable item, then, that is broad, deep, rich, deep and dynamic. Salad days need never end again.

Tomato Catch-Up

As citizens (or perhaps subjects, but that’s for another constitutional debate) in a post-industrial society, the Agrarian Age may seem many steps removed. Yet so much of our culture and institutions are steeped in it, as evidenced by everyday phrases such as “one bad apple ruins the barrel” and “she knows her onions”; to idiosyncracies like the twice yearly moving of the clock; to fundamental foundations, like the great midwinter feast and rest-up now known as Christmas.

Some might say such cultural resonances are the tip of an oak tree: that Homo sapiens are creatures of the Earth, and are drawn, as if by a force, to encounter the natural world even though it is no longer “necessary” or profitable to do so. When we speak of staying somewhere “nice”, that quality of niceness is so often bound up with a sense of closeness to nature. Conversely, the increasing incidences of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and the now recognised condition Nature Deficit Disorder, highlight what can go wrong when that tie is sorely frayed. It’s worth mentioning that people do go a bit lunar-tic on full moons, and this is borne out by NHS hospital and police crime statistics. Worth mentioning, that is, not because it adds much to this discussion, but because it’s one of those facts that seem quite amusing until you realise it basically means people getting hurt. Ouch…

September’s a funny one in this regard (that is, unfortunately, funny in a peculiar rather than a ha-ha way, but fortunately in a harmless, not unfortunate way). Even as schooling became universal and compulsory, there was no point trying to impose it in the summer, when many children were needed to help bring in the harvest. Even at the great dawn of the Comprehensive system, thousands of children in East London spent their late summer holidays picking hops in Kent.

For me, Back to School meant the end of summer, of freedom and boundless days, and a return to the strict discipline of walls and clock. As a grower, the situation is slightly reversed. The summer is a vital and magical time, the scarce months into which our entire year’s efforts are largely funnelled. It’s also manic, hard, and embroidered with impossible deadlines. We are simultaneously playing a number of spinning games of Catch Up: with the weeds, the gluts, the watering, the pest and disease, and the beautiful social processes inherent in operating as a workers’ cooperative; and falling behind in every damn one of them. Come September, we’re finally getting even. It’s not that we’ve got any better, but that everything else, other than the aforementioned beautiful processes, is slowing down. The bar has been lowered or, in that adage from Amenity Horticulture, the playing field levelled.

Our tomatoes have been great this year, truly. 2015’s rainbow nation of heritage varieties runs as follows: Carter’s Golden Sunrise, Golden Queen, Schimmeg Cregg, Green Zebra (the Washington-bred cultivar which, for the second year running, won our lunch time Tomato Taste test), Tiger Tom, Darby Striped, Mirabelle Blanche, Paul Robeson, Black Russian and triallists Ivory Egg and Weisse Schonheit. That’s eleven squad members in what is becoming a more or less settled, high-performing for team for us, after many seasons of trial and fun. Those who have been enjoying them Here (at lunches and off the Farm Stall); There (through our box scheme and market stalls) and Everywhere (Hornbeam Café, Walthamstow; Opera Tavern, Covent Garden; Three Colts, Buckhurst Hill), are probably at least agnostic to the idea that Too Many Tomatoes can exist. But on top of everything else, and Daylight Saving Hours or not, there have been sometimes barely the hours in the day, or the outlets in our phonebook, or the superlatives or swear words, for when we scale up the Three Peaks of tomatoes, cucumbers and beetroot.

This week, the supersonic speed of growth and ripening is gently easing with the diminishing light and temperatures. Full sized specimens no longer appear overnight. We have the measure of the crops and we know we have homes for them. We have caught the dropping fruit.
Then there’s the weeds. Plant plant plant, until midsummer that’s much of what we do. We are, after all, a Plant Nursery. Plants in, and only in the last three weeks have we managed to devote the dandelion’s share of our time to dealing with all the plants-in-the-wrong-place. Last week, as we were getting around to tackling knee-high nettles in the Old Kitchen Garden, Martin, our photographer in residence and former jobbing gardener, commented, “you’re like me, ideas above your station”, meaning with weed issues like this you’re probably trying to manage too much land.

Olly cleans up the salad beets, West Bank Salad Terrace. August 21

Olly cleans up the salad beets, West Bank Salad Terrace. August 21

Yes and perhaps no. The Old Kitchen Garden brassicas have now been weeded, and are looking pretty “clean”, as is the West Bank Salad Terrace, which a few weeks ago would have been best described as “overgrown” only if you’re trying to be polite. Cornelia is not that polite about it, but she has been instrumental this year in keeping the most aggressive weeds in check. Now we are catching up. And for the next couple of months, we’ll go through all the vegetable beds with a fine trowel. Sowing, Planting, harvesting, pruning, blanching, supporting, feeding and all the other seasonal joys will now provide the punctuation rather than the prose in the Gardeners’ Diary. It’s quite normal for us to begin and end the season with hardly a weed in sight. In between those tidal marks, the wildflowers often run riot: troubling sometimes, but maybe not the worst way to run an ecological growing system…

The Old Kitchen Garden, August 28

The Old Kitchen Garden, August 28

…An ecological growing system which, right now, weeds or no weeds, looks splendid in the golden light and misty morning dews of late summer. On the Entrance Field, runner beans dress our rustic arches handsomely, the squashes run to the hills and back again, spilling brass balls in their scramble. Borlotti beans, chicory, raspberries and apples are seeping to sunset pink. The feared “Salad Gap” – the sparse transition from summer to winter leaves – lasted only a week: a mere hiccup, a real triumph. Meanwhile, on the Old Kitchen Garden, the Year of the Brassicas: all the beds and green manure undersowings have been weeded; the winter radish thinned. Last Tuesday, the great harvest commenced: Vi, Gary, Robert, Jae and Jess uprooting the first of a thousand kohl rabis. I root around beneath the prose and punctuation for some poetry, and the last prophetic lines of Betjeman’s “Slough”:
“The cabbages are coming now,
The earth exhales.”

High Summer

When, in 2003, we brought out our Fruits of the Forest report, proposing a local food scheme for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, it might have been filed, close to News From Nowhere, under “Local Interest/ Utopian Fiction”. Some time ago it was relocated to Non-Fiction, the space it vacated providing a brief resting point, on the same journey, for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Leadership Bid. I still have to pinch my sideshoots when I see the unfolding of food growing enterprises in the city: our campaneros at Forty Hall, Sutton Community Farm, Growing Communities’ Patchwork Farm, and closer to home, Brandon & Michael’s Cheney Row site; and our nascent Farm Start programme.

Commercially speaking, we’re all just scraping by, but that counts as a commercial success in a sector, indeed a global economy, where producers are squeezed to within an inch of their lives, sometimes beyond.
The real growth businesses are not to be found out in town gardens, but indoors, cultivating the illegal herb Cannabis sativa for vast informal markets here. The illegality of the many weed growers presents something of a barrier to cross-fertilisation with their struggling vegetable counterparts. I assume the majority of operations eschew ecological approaches such as mixed plantings and rotations; and have an unhealthy reliance on glow lamps and hydroponics. But, peering through the closed curtains, there are a couple of lessons we could learn from them:

Firstly, drugs often work. Our weekly fruit & veg stall outside the Hornbeam Centre justifies its existence on various grounds, but its financial viability is quite possibly as dependent on its proximity to over-the-counter strong caffeine inside the Centre’s café as many of its customers. When folk describe our salad as “addictive”, I regard it as a complement: perversely perhaps, when you consider the lengths drink & tobacco manufacturers have gone to, to deny such accusations about their products.

Second, herbs are, by definition, powerful. We’ve harnessed the power by including culinary herbs in our salad mix and restaurant menu; last year Aimee developed our herbal tea range, based on herbs we were cultivating, or were growing wild on site. The launch of this year’s “Nourishing Nettle” blend took place with a herb walk and tasting on our last Open Day, to be followed into the cockle-warming season by our Calming and Strengthening blends. “Obtain A Yield” runs the permaculture principle. Biodiversity should be regarded as a yield in its own right, but there is great satisfaction to be had from our biodiversity areas also giving us a valuable crop from a light forage. Culture and wildness can be closer allies than we are led to believe.

Tree and our "Nourishing Nettle" Tea. Photo: Martin Slavin

Tree and our “Nourishing Nettle” Tea. Photo: Martin Slavin

If you’ll allow me to class garlic as a vegetable rather than an herb – and millions wouldn’t, but now’s hardly the time to get into an argument about it – then the cultivated herbs we grow and crop most of are sorrel and basil. Broadleaved Sorrel, in taste and appearance is only one small step for humankind removed from the wild form that you might stumble or munch on, hopefully both, on any stroll across acid grassland anywhere in Northern Europe. Yet our seasonal panel of Level 2 graduands awarded it Winter Salad Leaf of the Year 2014, and runner-up in the summer category. with its sharp citric twang, a mixed salad bag without sorrel is like a G & T without lemon.

Basil’s cultivation may be as old as culture itself. Native to India and the Middle East, it continues to be considered holy in Hindu, Buddhist and Greek Orthodox traditions. Our packing warehouse doesn’t resemble a temple, but there is something transcendental about the incense of basil that pervades the air there on summer harvest days. High on herbs and hope: Paradise on Earth.

The Holy Herb of Hawkwood, August 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

The Holy Herb of Hawkwood, August 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

A Rare Vintage

“It is a curious fact that men shaped by poor soils, like vines in similar conditions, have a more stimulating, finer “flavour” than the members of rich soil communities” – Edward Hyams, Soil & Civilisation

The entrance to Hawkwood Nursery could be described as grand: you take a turning off Hawkwood Crescent, E4, and the shadow of the forest begins to darken the petering road. You pass through the plain grey gates and suddenly it opens up, the Entrance Field to the right, where rows of multi-hued vegetables rise up the hill in a kind of acknowledgement; to your left, the artichokes tower above you and the shrubbery at their backs. Ahead, the great glasshouse gleams and glitters.
It’s a curious fact, though somehow fitting, that to get in to the building you have to go round the back, whereupon your first impressions of impressiveness are immediately diminished as you come face-to-face with our compost heaps. You may pause to ask yourself which looks less inviting – the open pile of rotting vegetation, or the adjacent maturing mountains, covered as they are in tatty tarpaulin weighed down with car tyres. But all that’s gold doesn’t glitter: on garden tours I’ve announced that these are the most important part of the whole site, for this is where we grow our soil. And growing soil, more than growing plants, is the gardeners’ precious gift to the world.

Good plants come from good soil. A seedling is planted into one of our raised beds. May 2015 Photo: Martin Slavin

Good plants come from good soil. A seedling is planted into one of our raised beds. May 2015 Photo: Martin Slavin

In cooler times, turning our mountainous compost heaps provides a great opportunity to ponder such profundities – or perhaps not – for a big group of cheerful volunteers with pitch forks. Nowadays, when all hands are needed to plant and maintain the leagues of veg beds, it becomes a solitary task for one man and his tractor, who makes the most of this moment to ponder how our produce comes, not just from London bolder clay, but also from a rich unique blend of organic matter from a range of sacred sources. The neighbouring forest makes its contribution; as do the remains of the particular choice of crops we grow here; the weeds and wildflowers that happen to grow here; the shredded trees of parks and gardens in our vicinity; and the waste, or rather left-overs, from our vegebox scheme. In other words, the recipe for our growing media becomes progressively more peculiar to us, our way of doing things, our web of connections. This is the development of what the French call “terroir”. A slow, steady process, I think, as tractor shifts the hundredth bucketful of semi-decomposed plant material a few feet to the left.

The same people that gave us terroir also gave us vintage. Different years are, funnily enough, different, and a truly earthed society should embrace, even celebrate their different flavours. Up to a point.
Our totem early summer crop are strawberries. We are proud to grow terroir strawberries in an age when so much of this fruit are grown in bought-in compost from no-place, with a shelf life of one year. Similarly against the tide, we grow them out in the elements, and are proud to have, thus far, always had a decent show in time for Wimbledon. Unlike our players, they usually keep going into the final, but not this year. Neither this year, the craziness of “Peak Strawberry”, when they ripen faster than we can pick them, and we roam the streets pushing punnets on the unsuspecting. This year, I think we harvested as many fruit as ever, but mostly a quarter of the size. The lack of water in the soil at the critical time left them with good flavour but unswollen. I suppose we should have watered them, or accept that this was this year’s vintage: not a great year, but one with character. Short and sweet.

Just picked. 26 June 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

Just picked. 26 June 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

Of Brassicas And Kings

June has been all sweat and dust. The rains passed over our heads, and the skies barely spat until the 20th, when the heavens opened, giving us veg growers at Forty Hall’s summer solstice celebration two good reasons to party hard. Our very soils – so longingly crafted into a rich stitchwork of life through seams of organic matter and careful cultivation – revert to dust or baked rock, primordial states. It’s hard to establish crops in these conditions, even with the wonderful warmth. The planting is slowed down and we have to speed up to redress the balance. When God evicted Adam and Eve from Eden with the memorable line, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread”, it wasn’t a mere quip: he meant it, man.

Don’t take this the wrong way though: these are great days on the community market garden, classic midsummer. It’s a buzz being part of a team that succeeds in clearing, weeding, forking over, mulching, levelling, planting out and covering a long bed of Black Kale, in time for tea, as we did on Wednesday. Perhaps it’s one of the ancient buzzes, that those of us who nowadays run half marathons or set off on epic journeys are out to recreate. Whatever, the tea tastes good afterward. Needing it gives it the flavour.

A few weeks ago on the radio I heard the Francophile reporter Graeme Fife reporting from the Transhumance in the Pyrenees. It’s the day in the year when the shepherds and goat farmers agree that the warmth has arrived, and begin, as one, their great summer migration from the deep valleys up up up the steep mountainside to the lush pastures in the clouds:

“When did you set out?” he asks one shepherd.
“Seven this morning”
“A long day, you must be tired”
“Toujours fatigue, jamais fatigue”.

Always tired, never tired. Having a baby this year has only accentuated that sensation of spending the lighter months feeling totally knackered and fully alive. Like Clare says, it’s because we don’t tire of it. Not the gentle breeze on our faces nor the spinning kaleidoscope of leaves; nor the cameraderie that comes with sowing seeds alongside someone; nor the exquisite produce that pours forth from our sweat and dust mixed with muck and magic. If you’re tired of London’s finest food, you’re tired of life.



Asparagus spears green and tender picked not a day ago; the unique salad bag with twenty plus varieties of leaf sprinkled with edible flower petals; broad beans popped from the pod and strawberries raised outdoors solely on soil and rainwater like so few are nowadays. You could say that though we’re poor we eat like kings, though this would be an understatement: our fayre is much richer than the rich’s. For, like peasants, gardeners and those who are on a level with their grower the world over, our solidaristic relationship with the land, its plants, animals and people, gives our simple vegetables a significance, a wholeness, that can neither be bought nor seized. A significance, a wholeness, the lack of which leaves a gnawing hunger in the gut, that can neither be named nor sated.
Glutinous and gnawed, they come at us for more, yet more, with their cuts, their austerity measures, their enclosures. They come on many fronts, but there are many ways to resist. Remembering that we have a wealth and power and dignity that cannot be taken is one way.

Namenia and Mizuna. Photo: Martin Slavin

Namenia and Mizuna. Photo: Martin Slavin

Last balmy Wednesday, in one of those accidental perfect circles, Reece and Martin began planting out the Black Kale “Nero di Milano” on the Entrance Field, at the precise moment that Ed, Grace, Jacqui and Nava started pulling up the skeleton frames of last year’s, to make way for the next course of the rotation. In the One Big Rotation, this week we start covering the Old Kitchen Garden in Cavallo Nero, Kohl Rabi, Winter Radish, for this is the Year of the Brassica, once only this decade. Brassicas, the Cabbage family, those vital, mineral-rich leafy greens grown and known the world over as “the medicine of the poor”. This is the year we get better.

Working last week in the Entrance Field. Photo: Martin Slavin

Working last week in the Entrance Field. Under the white mesh, the Black Kale. Photo: Martin Slavin

Plants In The Way

And they’re off! The garden has updated its status to “In Full Swing”. On the days our watering cans and compost bays are half empty, this means our beds lie a mess of winning weeds; when they’re half full, the crops advance to the foreground, brimming with vitality and the promise of imminent abundance: this is the best place to be.
For the last six weeks on Tuesdays and Fridays, salads, fresh herbs, rhubarb and asparagus have filled the crates that have filled the crater that is the Harvest Dispatch zone of the warehouse. The tomatoes have green fruits already; the squash have gone out, their crazy tendril-driven aventure launched; and red-ripe strawberries will arrive in a few more hours of pure bright sunlight. In the Old Kitchen Garden, it will be the Year of the Brassicas: Martin and I spent the last day of the last dry spell rotavating out strips for these in the clover/ trefoil/ nettle sward. It leaves it looking like a land of green mohicans, an effect not expected but one I’m quite pleased with. Punk never died: its DIY ethos has had a lasting impact on alternative culture, I don’t believe OrganicLea would have happened without it…
…Which would have made my days in May quite a bit less blustering but irrevocably less beautiful. At this time, running alongside the garden’s fulsome To Do List of sowing, potting up, planting out, earthing up, weed crisis management, not panicking and reassuring each other, we have our season of plant sales, which account for roughly one-third of our propagation work. It’s an extra burden to be lifted lightly, for there’s something magic about plant stalls. On a couple of Wednesday afternoons I’ve glimpsed a great huddle around the plant sales trolley, bubble-wrapped in the kind of hushed reverence normally reserved for new-born babies or priceless antiques. Loading the fragile pots of life onto our electric float for delivery into the heart of the borough, I feel like something akin to a horticultural Securicor Man. Like the veg that joins them, only more so, these plants have an extraordinary journey ahead of them: They will be dispersed across gardens, allotments, grow-bags in yards and window boxes on balconies; many will become a symbolic totem of summer, many will make the hard cityscape practically yield.

The Plant Stall, Hawkwood Open Day April 02015

The Plant Stall, Hawkwood Open Day April 02015. Photo: Martin Slavin

And here’s the thing: in our late capitalist society, for the most part people are no longer being asked to produce anything, but rather seek precarious employment and housing at the whim of an inflated, nebulous financial “industry”. Yet, contrary to what the architects and preachers of this system dictate, the peasant mode of production is not extinct, but experiencing a renaissance, as Jojo Tulloh, author of The Modern Peasant, outlined in the annual Spring Lecture at our last Open Day. In London today, as many people are involved in subsistence or small-scale food growing and preparation as ever: the Way Back to The Garden remains well trod.
Our little tomato plants are Way Markers. Bless them.

Graduating from the Nursery - tomato plants off to a good home, 31st May  02015

Graduating from the Nursery – tomato plants off to a good home, 31st May 02015. Photo: Martin Slavin

The Year Of The Blossom

They’re calling it “The Year Of The Blossom”, in hyperbolic fashion typical of the media makers. To be fair though, if anything on this earth has proven itself worthy of headline-grabbing hyperbole, it has to be the Spring Show. This April, the perfect match of dry warm days and cold nights has given us living bouquets both immaculate and long-lived. This in turn has meant that, for example, rather than cherry, pear and apple succeeding each other in a riotous relay, they are all out together, a blooming whole.

Theo and Nina with this moment's flowers.  Photograph: Martin Slavin

Theo and Nina with this moment’s flowers. Photo: Martin Slavin

It’s made me think about the Hanami – Japan’s “blossom festivals”. The population, having followed the sakura-zensen, or blossom forecasts, for weeks, flock to local cherry trees to picnic and party under their erupting canopies. My home county of Hertfordshire was once noted for its orchards of huge cherry standards of which the indigenous cultivars “Early Rivers” and “Archduke” we have at Hawkwood are a fluttering whispered echo. And I wonder if, had the Hanami custom appeared in the Home Counties as a result of some highly improbable nineteenth century cultural exchange, would these trees have been grubbed up so sharply in a sacrifice at the altar of Economic Margins, but perhaps this is fanciful. In any case, whilst our public holidays honour Banks not Blossom, Melvyn, one of our new Fruit & Vine Trainees, tells me that “Blossom Tours” of cider apples and perry pears out West are flourishing; and surely these are only the most modern manifestation of what we human have always done since the Dawn of Orchards: that is, hung around in them at the best of times.

Yet just as oranges, or indeed perry pears, are not the only fruit (and thank goodness). so fruit are not the only flowers. The site here is now awash horizontally as well as vertically, with the bright yellow swan songs of the winter brassicas. To say nothing of the colour kaleidoscope of our intentionally planted flowers – the blue borage, old gold calendula and tricolour pansies; or the unintentional drifts of weeds which we delight at in a rather conflicted way.

What nature gives with one hand, it often takes with the other. This colour crescendo is directly proportionate to the dulling of some of salad leaves: the chicories, red mustards and kale are being steadily drained of the vibrant tone and sweet notes lent them by cold snaps. Two of three Tom’s Diner restaurants we supply pulled their salad orders last week as the mix has become visually dominated by greens.

Edible pansy enters the salad bag, 24 April. Photo: Martin Slavin

Edible pansy enters the salad bag, 24 April. Photo: Martin Slavin

It’s unlikely that the upcoming general election will be dominated by Greens, though the colour is the perfect backdrop to most landscapes – cultural, political and physical – all of which we are, broadly and minutely, trying to effect. For example, the resurgence of edible flowers here should go some way to providing a dash of definition to our salads, that bring in much needed green stuff to keep us afloat; our bouquets of edible, and non-edible flowers, if bought, will see a tiny drop in demand for pesticide-soaked displays flown in from seized African lands; and they may start conversations about the price of beauty, the nature of beauty, the beauty of nature. All fitting tributes to the Year Of The Blossom.