Friday, 18 May 2012

Guest Post: YIKES by Sarah Coomer (@ChantsCottage)


I don't think there's a single real word that sums up the emotion I'm going to write about. None quite hit the nail on the head as well as the exclamation of consternation so beloved of Dennis the Menace and chums. It is a kind of fear, but it's not completely negative. There's a kind of adrenaline surge whenever I think about just what I've let myself in for. I begin to breath a little faster, a lump comes to my throat and I think “I'm really not sure I'm cut out for this”. But, no, dear reader, I am not about to chuck myself off Victoria Falls in a brandy barrel (though I may keep the idea in reserve for when it really goes pear-shaped). This is a gardening blog, not an Edwardian upper-class extreme sports blog (though if you or any of your friends write one of those do let me know). The white knuckle ride of which I speak is creating a kitchen garden... 

Last year we lived in a very nice end of terrace house with barely a garden of any kind. I took it upon myself, pretty much out of the blue, to fill our tiny back yard with pots and containers and plant them with salads and vegetables and herbs and a few companion flowers. I'd never done any gardening before but I was completely hooked by this form of alchemy – you put a bit of a plant in some mud, wait a bit and lo – amazing fresh vegetables and usually a jolly nice plant to look at by way of a bonus. (Not MANY vegetables, admittedly but that's what comes of cramming everything in like so many John Malkoviches in the restaurant scene in Being John Malkovich.) 

So when we moved, the one thing I knew we would have to have was room for a proper vegetable garden. And now I have that vegetable garden, sort of. And now it's Spring. And everything's getting a little bit scary. I've dug six beds, made two lasagne beds and have one hugel kulture bed (which is a kind of natural raised bed made from rotting stuff around a 'frame' of big branches). I went a bit overboard on the seed buying and sewing front, and now have enough seedlings to fill the beds about sixty four times over. And I can't possibly just get rid of them. And because I was very impatient and sowed them all about six weeks before I should have done, the seedlings themselves are bursting out of the sides of the trays or, for the lucky ones, pots they are in.

Last night I was repotting limp courgette plants until it got dark after I found that there was virtually no compost left beneath the surface of their pots. I felt like reporting myself to the RSPCC (Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Cucurbits). I'd planted too many too early and now they're dying because they have nowhere to go. It's not very warm and it's blowing a gale so I don't feel inclined to wing it and plant them out. When I do plant them out it will be in the bed I had earmarked for my asparagus bed. Because I've never got round to sorting out the asparagus because I couldn't decide on whether to plant seeds or crowns, get posh expensive ones or risk the cheap ones because frankly I didn't have a clue. And asparagus is a scary, snooty, precious kind of vegetable, way out of my league, surely. Now it's too late, and anyway, I need somewhere to put my cucurbits, and quick. 

And then there are the weeds. As a novice gardener, I had no idea about weeds. I thought they were a bit annoying but you just kind of mangled them up with a hoe, and bosh, job done. I know. Stop laughing. No, actually, carry on. I deserve it. Weeds are terrifying. Horror film stuff. As fast as I cut them down they are pushing up through the soil, like Carrie's hand. Couch grass. Brambles. Dandelions. You don't want it? We've got it. And dock plants – I have never seen such incredible roots. Because I've never bothered looking much at roots before. It didn't help that I doused everything liberally with some of the horse manure we got as a free gift when we bought the house. Manure is great stuff undoubtedly but it seems that nettles really quite like it too. 

And I have no idea what these are imitating my peas, but there every time I look there are more of them. My slightly smug excuse is that I would never resort to using weedkiller but there again there are plenty of organic gardeners whose veg plots do not resemble the municipal tip after garden waste collection day. 

I'm a natural worrier and now I have a billion more things to worry about, it seems (that's one worry for every seedling). Is my sweetcorn going to get blown down? Are those cabbages supposed to be that colour? Does it matter if there are ants in my lasagne bed? How can a thistle that small have roots that long? And there's so much to do, it bamboozles me to the point that often I think of something more urgent that needs doing elsewhere (this usually involving eating something). I still haven't put either pea sticks or cordons up for my tomato plants. I don't even know how to do it. There is literally nowhere at the moment for the runner and borlotti beans to go. I really should finish the other hugel kulture bed. Tackle the weeds properly. Mend the greenhouse door. Yet here I am, writing a guest blog outlining what I should be doing instead of doing it. But I suppose if I did all that and then wrote the post I'd have to write one on feeling smug, and no-one wants to read that do they?

But here's the thing - even though it's all a bit scary and I'm a bit rubbish and I have probably wasted quite a bit of time and energy in some places and not nearly enough in others this year I still love it. It still excites me. The fear means I'm bothered about it. I will get most of the things I need to do sorted. My potatoes are looking amazing. My experimental chickpeas are thriving and I just scoffed my first proper sized radish. If I squint the whole thing sort of looks like a real allotment. I am learning all the time and next year I will be more organised and have a much better grasp of what I need to tackle and when. And if it really gets the better of me, there's always the barrel...

Sarah's 'YIKES' is the latest in a series of emotions that gardeners are releasing into the wild, only to be captured and tamed over on my Guest Bed page.

I've recently started reading her blog, Chants Cottage, over at is a great read - with the lively passionate style above a regular feature. I've also added her to my list of blogs on the right hand side so you can keep tabs. Definitely one to follow.

Sarah was bold. She knew deep down there were feelings kicking and screaming inside of her desperate to get themselves onto a page; to be shared with the wider gardening world. She wrote to me asking to jump into this bed and you too can join in the fun by emailing or contacting me on Twitter @haplessgardener

If you're new to the guest bed then check under the covers and see what takes your fancy from the following:

Love   ----------    Disappointment  ---------- Frustration  ---------- Sorrow  ---------- 

Hopeless Romance  ---------- Anticipation  ---------- Guilt  ---------- Surprise ---------- 

Enthusiasm  ---------- Helplessness  ---------- Wonder  ---------- Oh What the Hell!  ---------- 

Awe  ---------- Hope  ---------- Planternal Instinct  ---------- Pride  ---------- Glum  ---------- 

Or failing that, just jump right in and see what you find


charlotted_uk said...

ha ha that Sarah is very funny, what a lovely guest to have round for a chat about gardening!

charlotted_uk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

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I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.