Unhappy looking plant at Yorkshire garden centre

Thanks but no thanks

The working life is tough: don’t we know it.

Unfortunately, some of us choose ‘interests’ that are hard work too.

11 months into the tenure of our allotment, Dad and I have come to realise that although TV gardening programmes  would have us think otherwise, this gardening lark is all bloody graft. It’s tough on body, mind and soul alike.

It’s like working in a crap job. When things go wrong, no-one knows why. When things go right, one feels lucky rather than clever. And every so often, a pest appears who undoes three months’ good work just like that.

Last month, everything on the allotment (weeds excepted) stopped growing.  Some blamed it on weird weather; some on poor soil. But because the crops were on a go-slow and the slugs weren’t, most of my seedlings (carefully nurtured since February) got eaten.

No doubt I put them in too early, when they were too small. And here’s another snag of allotmenteering: it holds a mirror to one’s personality, revealing things one doesn’t wish to see.  In my case, impatience.

novice gardener's failure

No bigger than shallots

Impatience was why I harvested my onions too early; why, rather than waiting until 90 per cent of the tops had toppled over then bending the remaining few, I bent them all at the first sign of a tilt.  (I do have some patience, by the way, but it gets used up on Dad and Mr MS.) When I finally dug the onions up, most were no bigger than shallots.

The harvesting procedure was hard work in itself. You don’t just pick the onions out of the ground and eat them. No, you bend them over, leave them for a fortnight, lift them on a sunny day, leave them again for a few days, move them to a ‘warm airy place’ for a few weeks, cover them with ‘thin cotton’ as sun protection and finally, if you have any energy left, plait them into a bunch.

Who knew?

That’s more care and interest than I lavish on most of the human beings in my life.

And I confess to a grudge about the onions. 50 tiny ones go into the ground in October. Nine months of watering, weeding and watching later, 40 slightly larger ones come out. As Dad would say, ‘Big deal.’

another failure for the newbie gardener

Hard as hell

As for the radishes, when I pulled them, there were no bulbs at all, just dark pink question marks of roots so hard that a kitchen knife wouldn’t cut them.

It was the celeriac and the Christmas potatoes (both bulbless) all over again.

No, allotmenteering is not the idyll it’s cracked up to be. It’s a long, slow process of learning the hard way. It’s the thin, flaccid burger you get at McDonald’s as opposed to the fat juicy picture of a burger in McDonald’s window.

But there are compensations.

What keeps me going through the darkest moments is my peas.

In the finale of the film ‘Amelie’, a lonely old man gives the most succulent part of his roast chicken to a little girl. Message: food tastes best when you share it.

Rubbish. Food tastes best when gobbled down alone with the curtains drawn and in front of a TV gardening programme featuring Monty Don.

This is especially true of home grown peas in short supply. I slather them in butter then wolf them down in great forkfuls. It’s the ugly side of gardening.

‘Monty,’ I entreat the TV screen. ‘Why didn’t you warn me it would come to this?’

p.s. The Reluctant Gardener needs a holiday. Fortunately, she’s getting one: see you in a few weeks.