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January 12, 2016

Little treasures

It is a sure sign of age when a gardening guru gets into the brain and eats it.

The carrot fly free Monty Don, blessed of the BBC and the current replacement for the Geordie bonny-lad, Alan Titchmarsh plus a veritable cabbage patch of presenters, sprang into awareness via a packet of carrot seeds.

As noted ‘The Don’ claims to be fly-free but amid dire warnings of the rascally pests, the accompanying booklet also spoke of planting cabbage, herbs and tomatoes, and as this is the time when those of the fork and spade start to think about getting muddy, a timely warning.

It all seemed so simple, just like watching the amiable and easy going ‘Don’ and his muddy boots, even taking into account his spate of over acting when visiting the Boboli Gardens in one of his TV shows on Italian gardens.

But back to the soil. There should have been a health and wealth warning on the tin as this simple guide has led me to a life of slavery and the establishment of a burst dam in finances.

Having taken note of the carrot fly warnings, I plumbed for tomatoes.

Ahhh, The Nursery

Ahh Bless!

Apparently and according to the ‘Don’ all I needed was a side of the garden shed, grow bag, roll of string and spade.


Child of five could do it, trouble is there is never one around when you need them.

I concentrated on tomatoes as my Sainsbury’s bill was littered with the increasing cost of tinned tomatoes for my Italian style cooking.

I could not believe that the noble fruit was an indicator of the great recession of 2011, but it was certainly a market leader in scrabbling up the price ladder from under 20p a tin to more than double.

By concentrating on one item, I erroneously thought I could keep control of a growth pattern that would reap the benefits of an elegant supply to fill many a Spag-bol, Lasagne and Cannelloni. Unfortunately the elegance descended into chaos as the sweet little plants I put in the seed pots grew into huge triffids that seemed to threaten the very existence of humanity, or in this case a cul-de-sac in Romford.

 The early morning trot out into the small garden with a watering can was quite pleasant in May and the memories of the previous year of snow, hail, thunderstorms, Sodham and Gomorrah that reached into June, were replaced by warming sunshine and low winds. Even the snails were caught napping by the change, but my investment in a warehouse full of Italian Tomato seeds were ready for it.

First born-hatched-fertilised

Success. The first crop

Bought from a family firm specialising in these beautiful objects of desire, the biologist in me estimated a fifty per cent uptake of the minute seeds.


The revered ‘Don’ recommended planting them in a good all round fertiliser and putting each seed in a tray or small plastic triangular shaped receptacles available from most good gardening outlets, or Iceland do-it-yourself lolly kits.

It started to fall apart when the mechanics of getting one seed into a pot failed due to my fingers not made for the delicate separation.

The parental glow of triumph faded daily as the carefully nurtured seeds sprouted and instead of a single plant, they filled the little posts to bursting with numbers that would have worried Bill and Ben.

Number two in the easy guide said to separate them into individual plants.

Taking over

First it started with one mini greenhouse

Whether this first step was the beginning of my downfall, I am not sure, but  ten triffids with waistlines of 40 inches trying to burst out of a small pot the equivalent of 1960’s hipster trousers, was not a pretty sight.


One was bad enough, but when it was realised that the original estimate of uptake for 50 per cent was more like 97 per cent, then emergency measures were needed.

Fortunately I only planted the entire contents of three packets, choosing the fat monsters and the twee little plum pomadores. As the costs and number of small plastic greenhouses and diddy pots rose, so did the number of larger pots required.

World domination in a few weeks

They would not stop growing

The first fatal mistake was to buy small pots. It turned out they have a limited life span as the nutritious and highly expensive Liquid Tomato Food, packed full of nitrates and phosphates, was like peanut butter toast was to Elvis Presley.


One greenhouse turned into two, then three and now four; the pots costing pennies for a tower of six were replaced by pots for the fuller figure at almost a pound each.

The cunning plan of buying even larger pots did not work either. Requiring a special delivery from the garden centre, cramming double figures of plants into one put an added strain on space in my small garden. it now resembles Ali Baba’s laundry but with large streaks of green things lolling over the side.

The next thing to consider was how to make them stand upright. The triffids bone structure was in its early stages and not developed into feet or fingers, bearing a remarkable resemblance to lorry drivers leering from their cabs outside the sixth form college at home time.

Almost an entire forest of bamboo cane was needed plus reams of that nice green string to match the colour of the plants. It goes without saying that a well-dressed tomato plant could not be seen dead without matching accessories.

Success measured by the kilo tonne

The beginnings of a kilo tonne

By now the entire scientific plan of controlled growth had literally gone out of the window. Money for more pots was a daily concern and alternatives like a little used Wok and empty tubs of butter were pressed into service. Even a couple of old saucepans from a much loved set of Graham Kerr specials.


Keeping pace with the growth rate of plants paled into insignificance as it became obvious that the crop volume was also going to be in kilo tonnes rather than the odd jam jar in the freezer.

What do you do with a couple of skips full of red fruit.

Forward planning of preserving, making chutney, tomato sauce, puree  and pesto took the revenue spend into cricket scores, so was this a good idea after all?

Apart from the volume and disruption to house, home and garden, the nurturing of these little fiends has also been fraught with discovery. For instance did you know that you had to pluck suckers out or they would inhibit the growth of your crop.

On paper that sounded fine but identification of what was a sucker was not obvious. In my eagerness to remove said suckers I managed to pluck the growing tip. Experience has now shown that in doing such, the triffid’s headlong vertical climb to adulthood is instantly curtailed to sideways Quasimodo growth with fat gangly tentacles giving an impression of a vulture that has decided to hop to the shops instead of fly.

I now have four redundant mini plastic greenhouses, a wealth of pots of various shapes and sizes that on present estimation would stand rim to rim between Romford and Brentwood, and sufficient fertiliser to create a massive peat bog in rural Romford.

And I have not got to the effect of Tomato Rot fungus yet

Plagued by standing too long in wet boots

Something went wrong

So, in conclusion, the great  Monty The Don has lost his saintly status in my eyes , and due for a an attack of green fly.





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