“Pile em high, sell em cheap?”

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Not in the case of most plants as can be easily seen from the photo. These are two pots of the basil (var.’Classico’) we’re growing in a propagator in the kitchen – and you’ll also see that the right hand pot was accdentally sown far too densely, and what’s happened is that the plants are failing to thrive as they should because they’re all competing for light and food.  So Madame intervened by thinning the right hand pot when the plants were only just beyond the cotyledon stage, and took a chance on transplanting them. The results were almost instantaneous as you can see – the transplanted ones have rocketed away, the thinned area of the pot they came from is responding too but the front part is stuck in a herby timewarp.

It’s always tempting to sow or plant just a bit more densely than the books suggest, but nine times out of ten you don’t get any more of a crop and sometimes you get less.  Light, circulating air and food are all really important for plant health and although the oversowing was an accident and not an experiment, the message is obvious – firstly, that amount of seed would have filled at least four or even five pots with healthy plants, and secondly it’s always worth having a go at transplanting – all it costs is a pot of compost and a chopstick to make the holes – but don’t try it with tap  rooting plants lke carrots because they hate it.

But yesterday, as I wrote, I was clearing a bed of chamomile because (same thing, I suppose) it was hating its rather greedy, light stealing neighbours like fennel, globe artichoke and angelica. What we had was straggling plants trying to haul themselves into a bit of sunshine, with hardly any flowers that we could harvest for chamomile tea. You can tell how fed up they were by the fact they thought they might stand a better chance in the asparagus bed! And the striking thing about the chamomile was their tangled and dense root systems – obviously that’s part of the reason they do well as low-traffic lawns.  The other part of the reason is they don’t mind being cut, so long as it’s not test wicket short.

This year we did some experiments with interplanting which showed mixed results. Nasturtiums did well under the apples and did no harm even if they did no good, although they do have a gift for wandering off.  The squashes under the brassicas were a bit of a disaster as they ramped away under cover of the butterfly proof nets which are such a chore to lift up. Summer savory and basil were pretty happy wherever we put them. Chamomile ticks all the boxes with its properties and we were chatting about where to relocate our bedtime-tea flowerbed.  Ideally it would be a bed of perennials so that  they could all get along famously together and get their roots down. Has anyone got any bright ideas?

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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