Every gardener has to cope with ups and downs. The ups are wonderful, particularly in a productive garden or allotment, and some of mine in the last year included my first ever peach, ripened by the sun; a yield of garlic that lasted eight months; and eating peas, sweet and moist, straight from the vine. The downs are sometimes so disheartening you wonder whether the whole thing is worth it. But because gardening is a battle with nature, in all its violent, disease-ridden, freezing glory, they are also inevitable, so you just have to accept it and carry on.
Walking the 10 minute journey from home, I expected the worst, but also hoped for the best. Because British gardening is freighted with optimism, I wondered whether the metal pegs, duct tape, string and fence of bamboo canes that I had erected around the flimsy plastic and metal mini greenhouse might have been enough to anchor it to the ground, and protected the seedlings of lettuce, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes inside, as well as the module tray that represented the embryonic cut flower patch that I (still) hope will grace Plot 35a this summer. But down the river in Greenwich, a crane had been bent double in the wind. Planes had been grounded overnight. On the road to the site, fences were down, tossed like playing cards onto the pavement. Who was I kidding?
This was the scene, above, that greeted me on Monday afternoon when I went to the plot in the aftermath of Storm Katie. As we are not allowed permanent structures over 5ft on our site, this sort of mini-greenhouse is a common feature. It is a great structure to grow plants in – four tiers, plenty of room for seedlings, and very warm. But it is also useless at withstanding strong winds, because it is so tall and thin, and had already been buffeted across the plot by Storm Imogen in February (nothing was growing in it at the time). I had tied it down and thought I had done enough, but clearly nothing was going to stop a storm that had a windspeed of up to 105mph in some areas.
Opening the greenhouse, which was slumped sideways on the next-door bed, I found the module trays upside down, their contents strewn against the green plastic. But some of the plants were ok: the lettuce, which I’d sown in tightly packed amounts to be pricked out into the salad bed this week, had developed good root structures and had remained in tact – about 12 immature lettuces in each square cell, roots knitted together. The flower seedlings were all over the place, and while I tried to rescue what I could it was difficult to identify them at the early two leaf stage – I will just keep an eye on them as they grow.
Sadly the broad beans, which I sowed last October and have withstood winter frost – not to mention Storm Imogen – looked as if they had been flattened by a steam-roller. They were more vulnerable than they were a month ago because they are so much taller – around two foot. Yesterday I put in some canes to support them – broad beans are very good at recovering, and will even regrow from the base if they are snapped in half – so I am hopeful.
Worse was the sour Morello cherry, which I planted only two years ago. A neighbour’s playhouse had been lifted up from its site, Wizard of Oz style, and had travelled quite a distance to where it ended up, crashed into the back hedge. In its path had been this sour cherry tree, which I had hoped would provide its first crop this summer. It had been knocked over and almost severed, just above the graft union point. I am expecting the worst, but have tried to bind the trunk back together with heavy duty duct tape, as if mending a broken leg. But the shock may have killed it.
The grapevine, which I was already worried about because it was getting very large, has slumped forwards and the wooden frame that it grows across has been badly damaged. I am concerned that once it starts to come into leaf the weight will be too much and the whole thing will come crashing down. I need to decide whether to cut the vine back hard, removing around 50 per cent of its bulk and weight, or build supports for the wooden frame.
As you can see from the picture, the seedling trays that had been in the mini-greenhouse are in not too bad a state. It could have been much worse. I have moved the greenhouse to a more sheltered (although less easy to access) position and for now the seedling trays are in a lower greenhouse to recover.
As for the broad beans, I had sown more seeds last month to fill in the gaps, and these are the seedlings, above, which will hopefully ensure I still have a decent crop. At moments like this, it is important to focus on the positive aspects, the things that are growing, or undamaged, or can be saved.
And as I walked around Plot 35a, the wind dropped and the sun came out. I looked at my other fruit trees, which were all fine. As they are espaliered to frames, their bare branches spread out, they allow the wind to whip through them, rather than knock them over. I got to the apricot and found the flowers, as seen above, all in tact. Storm Katie had grounded planes, bent over cranes and wrecked my greenhouse, but not a hair on this pretty apricot flower was out of place. Nature is violent, but it is also extraordinarily beautiful.