Nothing makes a gardener happier than discovering a huge pile of horse manure, warm and steaming, has been dumped, within wheelbarrowing distance, of their plot. Nothing. This rich brown, crumbly stuff, with its unmistakeable aroma, is like a drug to us and we will do ANYTHING to get our hands on it.
I had been alerted to the delivery after discovering a message on my answer phone from a ‘Marjorie’, probably not her real name; my mother had also spotted the pile and phoned me up in what can only be described as ‘an anxious state’. “They’re taking it all!” she cried. “There’s a man has been back four times! If you don’t come and get some now it will all be gone!”
I assured the aged relative that there would be plenty enough to go round and if not, I knew of another supplier. I draw the line at buying it already bagged as there are plenty of places where one can turn up with a wheelbarrow and a shovel and take away the really good stuff for free. However providence had provided and I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, or indeed any other orifice, so I hot- footed it down to the allotment just as dusk was falling.
It’s an odd time to be on the plot; denuded of people and machinery the thrilling sounds of birdsong comes to the forefront. The melodious, flute-like call of the blackbird is unmistakeable as he heads home to roost leaving the robin to carry on bob,bob bobbin’ as darkness falls. This chirpy red-breasted chap continues to forage for worms and grubs in the dimmest of light; triggered by light levels he is the first to burst into song in the morning and the last to quieten down at night.
The clew of worms, so readily available in this heap of dung, will soon be spread across plots providing a veritable feast for wildlife. Those that escape the dinner plate will tunnel down into the earth mixing and aerating, channelling goodness to where it’s needed; at the roots.
I’ve been a bit tardy in getting seeds sown this spring, deterred by the seemingly endless winter; however this now seems a Godsend as I can dig this very well rotted muck straight into my soil replenishing it in time for the growing season. Rumour has it this matter has been decomposing for four years, a rumour that has caused much excitement amongst the plot holders. We can dig it in now knowing it will improve the soil structure and add essential nutrients. Maybe this year someone will harvest a record breaking pumpkin or produce dahlias good enough to show, if that’s what razzles your berries.
If there was a prize for the tallest cardoons my neighbour would have won. Weirdly I hadn’t noticed these giant, scraggly seed-heads before, it was only when I turned to marvel at the splendorous sunset that I took notice. The sky was awash with colour; hues of pink and orange blurred together like watercolour and the tall cardoon stems stood silhouetted and beautiful.
I have a certain mistrust of cardoons and globe artichokes for that matter. The tap root of a cardoon can grow ridiculously deep so once you’ve planted one there’s no going back. Artichokes, through no fault of their own, have fallen out of favour with me. I have my reasons which, one day I will share with you. Needless to say they involve RHS flower shows, the BBC, something directors call ‘jeopardy’, heartache, triumph and a bucket load of blood, sweat and tears.
However eight years on I’m softening a little, warming towards the artichoke. I have a couple of young plants in pots stuffed between tubs of spring flowers; the silvery leaves are a pretty foil for pastel peach hyacinths.
Eating globe artichokes is a faff. Following a lengthy 30-40 minutes in a steamer, smother with bernaise sauce then remove each petal and slide the soft fleshy part through your teeth; it’s fiddly, time consuming and, quite frankly, I can think of better foods to eat.
But it’s not all about me. To encourage and maintain a well-balanced and harmonious edible garden it’s as much about giving as it is about taking. This season I give my soil manure, a rich treat of goodness. This season I will plant globe artichokes, for the myriad of tiny insects that relish the seed heads. This season I will take time to sit back and look, listen and savour the magnificence that this incredible natural world has to offer.