Sunday, August 10, 2008

First borns

'Imprinting' is the word bird-keepers use for it – you know, that bond for life that one living thing has for another, no matter how irrational it can sometimes seem. Usually the 'imprint-ee' is the hatching baby, and the 'imprint-er' is the person on the spot. But what do you know, with plants it works in reverse. See your first strawberry develop, notice the first broad bean finally make an appearance, and you remember it well. Hardened strawberry and broad bean farmers might not feel the same anymore, having produced millions of identical babies to be shipped off to the markets, but for this amateur gardener there's a genuine thrill each and every season when the first borns start arriving. Especially the winter babies, who have to do it tough.

Don't ask me why one strawberry streaked ahead of its siblings and turned into bright red bird food like this. I do rotate the pot weekly, so the ones on the other side had the same chance as this guy. But become a beacon it did. The verdict from my taste tester? Yes, definitely a strawberry but nothing exceptional. Just another strawberry in fact. Not even the pleasure of knowing that she got to eat it before the birds did worked any magic. To her, it's an unexceptional child, just one kid in a basketfull of little red children.

Pretty flowers just like this one was all that my broad bean trellis has been producing for the last few months. Very nice, especially close up, but eventually they changed from being pretty to frustrating. Enough with the flowers, guys!

And then, after four cold, wet wintry days with hardly a glimmer of real sunshine, suddenly all the flowers turned into broad bean babies. In fact, so many, that there really wasn't a 'first born' as such. More like a 'first batch'. Having not ventured down into broad bean land for a few days, I'm not sure when they started appearing. It was a case of Sunday no beans, Monday to Thursday rainy gloom keeping even keen gardeners inside, then Friday, broad bean-erama.

Now, this of course is not my first tomato baby, but it is my first midwinter tomato baby. Raised from seed sown in a hanging basket in May, this is 'Garten Perle' a vigorous grower if ever there was one. It's in a sheltered spot on the very edge of a north-facing covered pergola, so it gets lots of winter sun, and not much of the nasty, sold southerlies or south-westerly winds, and a fair bit of attention from me.

These parsnips are of course expected to look like this right now, but I've never grown them before and so they qualify for the 'first born' gallery. Handsome, broad leaves and steady progress all-round. The only problem was the seed packet. It said "sow seed fairly thickly due to (I forget the word, but something like 'haphazard') germination". So, with a germination rate in the high 90% range, I ended up with seedlings everywhere. Thinning done, they're powering along.

And this, too is an unexceptional sight. Rosemary flowers. But for me it marks the completion of a transplanting job on a favourite plant. For some reason this plant is a super-fragrant, super-oily rosemary. Just walking past it sends up clouds of lovely rosemary scent. But it was in the wrong spot in the garden, and I really did have to move it. However, I did the move slowly, very slowly – took about a year. Rosemary strikes very easily here in Sydney, so I just cut off a dozen stems and stuck them in the ground in the 'new' spot. None of this fancy 'taking cuttings' operation beforehand. Just stuck them in the ground. Of the dozen stems planted about 10 thrived, and I've left two to grow on into handsome bushes, with these pleasing results. The old parent plant has been removed, finally, and its progeny, the first generation, if not the first born, carries on the family tradition and continues to be the most fragrant rosemary I've ever encountered.

I am still waiting, quite impatiently, for the potatoes to do something interesting. And when I say 'impatient' that means I actually exhumed one of them the other day to see what was happening and indeed there is progress aplenty, but no shoots above-ground yet.

I really ought to be more patient, as it is midwinter after all. I really am trying to let nature take its course but it's hard not to play God here and there. I'm hardly practising the loving disinterest of a Christian God who never gets involved or interferes directly in earthly affairs. Rather, I tend to feel like, when it comes to my earthly garden, I'm a bit more like a badly behaved chorus of Ancient Greek or Roman style Gods – interfering with this person here, smiting that pest there, getting involved wherever I please, occasionally wreaking havoc, and sometimes doing some good. Not bad fun at all, really.

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