Hallucinogenic fly repellant moves in with the cabbages.

Last week I noted here that some stray aubergines had moved into one of the allotment beds and wondered where they could have come from. Seeds, possibly, surviving the composting? But yesterday when the plants came into flower it became obvious that they weren’t aubergines at all but they were, nonetheless, members of the Solanaceae; the potatoes, tomatoes and – well- deadly nightshade, thorn apple and henbane all to be found in any self respecting dark pharmacy. What’s going on? what with killer courgettes stalking the home counties you might wonder whether it’s safe to go out at night, and I’ve still no idea how they got there.

However these rather attractive plants, which turned out to be alternately known as “shoo fly” or “Peruvian apples” – botanically Nicandra physalodes – have left us in a dilemma. The shoo fly name comes from its ability to keep flies and other enemies at bay by emitting a repellant chemical from glands on the leaves. But the leaves and stems and particularly (by report) the seeds, when rubbed into the skin or ingested, are apparently hallucinogenic. That’s the upside, you might say. The downside is that they seed freely and before you know where you are you might land up with an infestation. We could dry them (they dry well, so the flower arrangers claim – any excuse will do) and hang them up in the kitchen to keep flies out. I’m not sure how growing fly repellant plants fits in with the wildlife corridor ethos, but they could possibly be useful in the carrot bed – who knows? I’m intrigued enough to save some seed and grow them in pots that could be moved around the plot. I’ve discovered that the seeds are on sale an a number of reputable places so I guess a “proper” flower gardener would have recognised them immediately and we’re unlikely to get a visit from the drug squad – maybe from a luminescent operatic unicorn, though? Oh do send an alto – I’d love an alto unicorn. Better get some gloves! More seriously I should say that they belong in a seriously poisonous group of plants and could be very dangerous to curious children because they look a bit like Chinese gooseberries.

But yesterday we took a break from exploring the local nature reserves – that’s what we call a holiday in newspeak – and settled down to some routine weeding on the allotment. It’s one of the slacker times of the year; routine maintenance, watering and picking just about cover it. If you don’t pick the courgette today it’ll be a marrow tomorrow, and most veg will give up if you don’t keep picking.

So just to prove that we haven’t gone AWOL altogether here are some photos of the allotment:

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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