Friday, 16 May 2008

Eating Lewes

I’ve been a member of an organisation of grower enthusiasts called the Henry Doubleday Research Association since my early twenties. At this time of year I would eagerly await the photocopied newsletters announcing the annual members' experiments. We were invited to test the effectiveness of green manures, the power of peat v peat-free compost and the resistance of different varieties of tomatoes to blight. At the end of the experiments we had to weigh, measure or otherwise assess the results, which then got fed back to us all some months later.

I still approach gardening with this sense of adventure each year. This year my challenge is to grow as much food as possible in our tiny Lewes garden. I’m using lots of successional planting and piling on the home-made compost. Long-lasting leafy green vegetables seem to be the best thing to grow; chards and kales have fed us steadfastly through the winter, and some of the perennial or self-seeding herbs like chives, parsley and rocket are fantastic. I’m loving the experience so much, especially in this warm wet weather, that my passion is spilling out of the front door too and on to our slug-free front doorstep where I’m growing tomatoes, runner beans, lettuces and herbs.

I met up with Ruth O’Keeffe whose Lewes Little Gardens are spreading all over the town in the nicest kind of guerrilla gardening way. Where, I asked, could one plant edible gardens? As we pored over the map I realised that most of Lewes’s gardens themselves are plenty big enough to provide a large amount of food. All the Landport gardens, for example, are Dig for Victory gardens, intended to feed whole families. It’s only the new houses that have tiny gardens in order to maximise developers’ profit. Am I alone in feeling the irony of people moving in to The Nurseries development in Malling, once on the site of a nursery that helped feed Lewes, not being able to feed themselves off their own wee plots?

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