Unearthing edible treasures on the plot

Allan Jenkins
·2 min read

The prodigal returns after five weeks away. The plot’s thickened. Saturday, 6am, I am relieved and contrite, but feeling guilty. No matter what my (good) reasons, I have neglected this place. And at peak summer growing time, too. I am concerned the plot will punish me, won’t understand. My theory is that what works with a vegetable garden is sustained attention. With meadow and some flowering spaces less so.

I turn a corner and there it is. In all its low-sun, high-summer splendour. The sunflowers are tall, the red orache towering, the chicories have bolted and branched into blue flower. I am mostly here to say hello, but also to lift the potatoes. I need the bed for chicories, late-summer salads and hardy leaf.

The soil is heavy, impacted, my back reluctant, but soon enough there they are: a pile of ruby-red jewels and paper-skinned whites, a bucket of buried treasure. I pick apple mint to go with it and sort half the haul to leave for Rose and Howard.

I add a few courgettes, a couple of small handfuls of peas. I cut a jug’s worth of brilliant-orange calendula. The tagetes fire king is resplendent in its scarlet-robed glory. The sweet peas are scented heaven. I will cut a bunch tomorrow.

Mostly, though, I am here, gardening cap (If I had one) in hand, pleading the plot’s forgiveness. Reaffirming my reliability. There will, of course, be a price to pay: the climbing French beans are sickened by aphids, snails and slugs, and I may have missed optimum sowing times for autumn. But I have root trainers of treviso and other chicories sprouting on the roof terrace.

There is weeding to do, seed to save, stinking nettle and comfrey tea to spray. But I’m back in my happy place. We will just have to pick up where we left off.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from guardianbookshop.com