Hartley Magazine

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Lia’s tomatoes are benefitting from the time she is spending pottering

I like this time of year in the greenhouse. I find the rush of spring almost overwhelming and hate that feeling that I’m never quite keeping up with everything – that mad dash to get everything sown and into pots and then into the ground in time to take advantage of our always-too-short season keeps every gardener rushing around just slightly beyond capacity. But I like this bit. Everything that’s going to be in is in, the weather has settled into something that looks very suspiciously like summer, and the tasks now are simple and repetitive, caring for existing life rather than springing life forth with all its attendant potential disasters.

This time of year lends itself to that most delicious of gardening tasks: pottering. Pottering sounds so insignificant but it is actually the difference between beautiful gardens and neglected ones, between crops and crop failure. It is that everyday tweaking and watching that makes all of the difference, that old saying about plants growing better in the gardener’s shadow. Not literally of course, if you had the time to stand shading a particular plant all day then no, you wouldn’t be doing it a lot of good, but that slitting between, looking for trouble, spotting, solving, tying up strays, all of that helps the plants to romp away unimpeded and to do their best with whatever sunshine the season throws at us. In this week’s pottering I have spotted the start of an aphid invasion on the grafted aubergines, and moved in a couple of ladybird larvae from outside on the broad beans to deal with it. They look better already. I have pinched out each of the tomatoes so that they direct all of their energy up the selected stems and don’t waste their precious short life making a big bushy plant but instead concentrate their energies on making a big bowl of luscious tomatoes for me. I have divided up a supermarket basil plant into four terracotta pots so that it looks very like a grew them myself from seed and so that I will get pesto-levels of basil from them very soon. I have also pinched them out, and nibbled on them, before taking some inside for my salad. And of course I have watered and fed, nothing ever gets fully dried out when you’re continually pottering. Pottering is a very gentle kind of work, perfectly suited to the heat, and it can be done – or perhaps must be done, in order to be considered true pottering – with a glass of wine or a cup of tea in hand too.

This is the joy of course in having moved all of our growing activities from the allotment to the end of the garden, and given up the allotment. I realise how lucky I am to have the space and lots of people cant do this, but by pulling down a big ancient shed we have managed to free up this space. The allotment was never a place for pottering, just because of the sheer effort involved in getting up there. It was always a pretty intensive and dedicated work time: everyone up for several hours, lots of sweaty work, then everyone home again. It was no less gorgeous for being that, and I loved it and always came away with a great sense of achievement, but I have missed having gentle, tea-fuelled pottering in my life, and it is very good to get it back. I am embracing it with great relief: gardening is much easier than it has been for some time. The tomatoes and the aubergines seem to appreciate it too.