Friday, 30 March 2012

March 30th - In order to reap you must first sow

Dear Nigel,

I see you are knee-deep in preparing your vegetable and herb beds for the new arrivals of Tarragon, fennel and lemon verbena.Some things are better picked fresh and used immediately, and Tarragon is such an amazingly useful herb with chicken or fish.The uncharacteristically summery weather this week has brought the trees in the park into blossom in days - nought to sixty in five seconds - and suddenly nature is falling over herself to bud or unfurl; each vying for space and pre-eminence with the next. One day the ground is dark and dank, the next all hell has broken loose, it seems.

The Green-in-snow salad leaves you buy at the farmers' market is a new one on me. I like wonderfully-named plants, but if this is hotter than watercress or rocket, I'll leave well alone. You liken it to a thin spreading of wasabi, and this is probably all i need to know.I prefer the buttery taste of baby spinach and watercress in my salad.

Our farmers' market is awash with pretty posies of purple sprouting broccoli - a true reminder of the time of year - and it seems a pity not to buy some and use it. You recommend having it with oyster sauce  and ginger, adding it at the last minute. It always seems a shame when the colour seeks to leach out of the broccoli, but your method preserves as much as possible.The red chard you buy for use in salads. I think this is such as underused vegetable, so easy to grow, so versatile and so very pretty - like champagne rhubarb into your stir fries and gratins. There is a rainbow version which looks amazing, but having never grown it i couldn't vouch for the taste. This is a farmers' market and not a supermarket vegetable, and so interest alone makes it a worthwhile addition to the meal. I would recommend it, along with perpetual spinach, as being one of the most useful vegetables to grow for the beginner gardener who wants things he can actually eat and not the sort of high-maintenance and difficult to please vegetables like carrots.

I think half the pleasure in gardening is watching things grow from the first stirrings of the soil, to the formation of leaves and day-upon-day of accumulated growth and development. We live in a age where everything is instant, people love to see properties and rooms changed in a day. I worked on a garden at RHS Tatton flower show, two years running; and, although great fun to do in itself, the whole idea of just popping fully-grown made-to-measure plants into the ground had very little to do with actual gardening and more in keeping with art. Often, these plants were buried still in their pots so that several days later they could be dug up and auctioned off.

 Not so dissimilar, however, to the hundreds of bedding plants we planted at National Trust's Lyme Park. I remember taking my family along proudly several weeks later just to show them the immense amount of work we'd put in for 'a good show', only to discover they'd all been dug up the week before.


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