The tender feelings of a novice allotment holder

Bloody balsam

While gardeners are happy to emote about weeds – ‘those beautiful buttercups’ or ‘that bloody Himalayan Balsam’ – down at our allotment few voice their feelings about their own crops.

Perhaps it seems taboo, like saying you have a favourite child. Or maybe after thirty years of gardening successes and failures, one is drained of all emotion, an empty husk.

But Dad and I haven’t reached that stage yet. Our plot fair seethes with emotion, with plants we see as ‘little beauties’ or ‘bloody wash-outs’.

Dad’s feelings centre around the effort-to-edibility ratio.

Potatoes are his favourites. ‘Bung ’em in the ground and dig em up a few months later.  A good pound of spuds from each plant.’ (The exceptions were the Christmas potatoes, which grew nice green tops but produced nothing edible underground.  They were a bloody washout.)

His other favourites are runner beans.  ‘Little beauties. You can eat the whole thing, y’see. Not like broad beans, where half your labour goes into the pods. You only get a handful of beans, then the phone rings while you’re cooking ’em and you burn the damn things.’

peas at our Yorkshire allotment

Peas are dismissed

Peas are dismissed on the same grounds.

But back to broad beans, which are in fact my favourite. I planted an overwintering variety in November and my cup hath brimmed with emotion ever since.

I was amazed and oddly touched to see green shoots in winter. I was proud when the sturdy little plants withstood snow and rabbits. I was enchanted at the delicate black and white flowers and thrilled to see glossy pods stand proud. And finally I was in ecstasy (well, almost) when we ate the first pickings. They took two minutes to cook and tasted divine in that special bittersweet broad bean way.

broad beans - a good crop in our second year


And that’s not all. Broad beans are moderate plants. There’s a steady reliability about them, and no sudden shocks.

Spinach, on the other hand, alarms with its immodest growth. Give it a bit of sun and rain and it’s away, like a rat up a drainpipe. I once had a front garden taken over by nasturtiums, and to this day can’t stomach the sight of them or their seeds. When things are rife, I go right off ’em.

Mr MS shares this sensibility. He admits to not liking August because of ‘a burgeoning quality’ about the plantlife. ‘Giddying’ he calls it. ‘It feels as if something is about to burst.’

My feeling about this manifests again in silliness about weak seedlings.  Chuck ’em out, says every gardening book and seed packet under the sun. But I can’t.

Affection for the vulnerable may explain my picking out that neurotic, crazed turnip-muncher, Dog MS. On the subject of picking men, I remain silent.

Perhaps it’s to do with not having children. And yet I doubt it. There are thousands of childless couples in the world and they aren’t all watering spindly Brussels Sprout seedlings out of a specially made bottle every morning.

a proud moment for the newbie vegetable gardener


As an antidote to all this emotionalism, the last word goes to Mr MS.

He’s asked what his favourite crop is.

‘Err… peas?’

‘There’s no right answer. Just say what you feel.’

Fear enters his eyes. But he rallies. ‘All plants are different, and I like them all, for what’s individual and special about them.’

For a man whose top ten films are constantly under revision, this surprises me.

‘Well, that’s the way it is,’ he says.

On the subject of his attitude to women, he remains silent.