The first greenhouse I ever visited belonged to my Grandad Fred. He was a tiny, fiercely intelligent, one-eyed, milkroundsman who because of the early morning nature of his job had plenty of time to work on his huge garden and in his large greenhouse. During the summer the greenhouse was filled with the pungent aroma of ripe and ripening tomatoes, and the equally strong pong of a disinfectant Jeyes fluid (used liberally keep the potato blight away). Grandad Fred was a model for any gardener, no rushing at a job for him, years of experience had made him understand the basic truth of "slow and steady wins the race". He was great to spend time with, for he was always ready to explain whatever task he was getting on with (or trying to if I was there). I can hear his voice in my mind 40 years later, a country accent as we lived in one of the most rural parts of one of the most rural counties in England, Shropshire.
I am currently living in Slovenia, I grow my own vegetables now, my plot abutting one meticulously maintained by Tommy, a man very similar to Grandad Fred. Plenty of advice is on offer, unfortunately in a language I don't understand! He was very shocked on discovering that I had started my pole beans indoors then brought them out to plant after the danger of a late frost had passed. He told me (somehow) that my plan would end in disaster. He got me so worried that I made little individual covers from horticultural fleece for my baby bean plants and spent an hour tying them all on (he found this second idea even more amusing than the first).
My cosseted beans quickly outgrew their romper suits, scrambled up the poles so kindly lent to me by Tommy. They do that differently in Slovenia too, planting 5 plants around the base of each pole (they are as thick as a small tree!) rather than the strong but thin bamboo poles we tend to use in the UK which will only support 1 plant each. Tommy had stood over me after he had marched across to my plot with a big stack of the slovene poles, when I just put 1 plant in for the first one it seemed to set him off again.
It's amazing how much ridicule can be conveyed through someone's tone of voice. Sarcasm and scorn can hurdle any language barrier effortlessly, meaning that pretending not to understand the words that are being shouted at you just won't work. I planted 5 plants around the base of the poles. Tommy nodded approval in the way one might encourage a small child who has just eaten spinach for the first time and returned to his cucumbers.
I had the last laugh though because before you could say 'Jack and the Beanstalk scarlet or white flowers festooned my beans plants which by now had scrambled to the top of the poles. Even my own Grumpy Old Man was impressed (which is not a common occurrence) and suggested dryly that I might give Tommy the first picking of the beans as they were so clearly going to be so much earlier that the ones he had put in. Tommy's beans did look a bit quiet and were so far behind mine in terms of both height and flowers, it seemed this would be possible. But I was operating in a different horticultural universe now and decided it was not good politics to gloat. Plus if anyone was going to eat the first beans of those poles, it was going to me!
All I really wanted at this stage was Tommy to come over and admire/praise/say anything remotely positive about my beans. To perhaps admit that he had bean wrong and I had bean right. Each day if we were on our plots at the same time, I glanced across, nodded, perhaps waved, wished our cats would stop disgracing themselves amongst his lettuces and hoped he would wander over.
Eventually he did just that, I straightened up smiling in happy anticipation as he walked towards my rather, ramshackle, freeform, postmodernist plot . (He will say something , he has to say something about the beans) I mentally dared him not to give me some acknowledgment.
We exchanged the few pleasantries that not understanding a word each other was saying would allow. Tommy didn't even glance at my magnificent beans, in fact he behaved as if he had developed some kind of temporary bean blindness. All that happened was that as he turned to leave, he pointed at a row of lettuce seedlings that had become a bit too close for either comfort or productivity and conveyed in no uncertain terms (all the time looking me straight in the eye) that they required thinning out, yesterday. He returned at a measured pace back to his own plot. As I stared at his back I was so reminded of my Grandad Fred, I nearly wept.
By Ayesha from Slovenia EU
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Thank you Ayesha for sparing the time to share about your memories and your current plot. I loved reading it. I've lived in Shropshire for about 30 years and have an allotment. I do the same as you with the early runner beans and got a lot of negative opinions when I put them out during the cold spring we've had. My daughter gave me lots of old net curtaining at just the right time and I covered up the 3 rows with that, while people kept tutting! We ate our first beans in late June while neighbours' beans were just beginning to climb their poles, just having them early is enough for me...the old boys around me won't change their ways, I don't think!
Great to know that the older generation maintain their quiet dignity and will never ever admit you're right - whatever the language! This is what I love about gardening, so many years of prior experience added to the spirit of 'try it and see' is fantastic! (07/15/2010)
What a beautiful writer you are. I am sorry the story ended. Thanks for painting such a clear picture. (07/17/2010)
Great story. Reminded me so much of our experience with "spoiled hay gardening". We'd moved to NC from FL where we could never grow potatoes, and tossed down a lot of old hay, put the potato seeds on it, and covered it all up with about a foot more of old hay. Boy, did we get kidded. Then in the fall, I called a sweet older gentleman who had shook his head the hardest, and asked him to come over. We went out to my "potato patch", and I started pulling away hay to expose the lovliest clean potatoes you ever saw, and I thought he was going to have a fit.
Ruth Stout's book on "Spoiled Hay Gardening" (and that might not be the exact name for her book) taught us all we ever needed to know about gardening. Her brother Rex was also a gardener and I believe he may have helped with that book.
Thank you for sharing your garden with us.
Pookarina / Julia (07/17/2010)
What a great story. It reminded me of my grandpa Russell and his postage stamp sized backyard and how he prided himself on each fruit and vegetable that came out of it. (07/18/2010)
Thanks so much to everyone for leaving such encouraging feedback on my piece. As a teacher it reminds me once again just how important it is to have an audience for your writing!
Its also great to see how writing about my Grandad invoked fond memories for others.
Your article so inspired me again to write some things to my son about his family history he'd asked about. Also, I so very much enjoyed a Google image site called Photography by Sabine J. Hutchinson, who has the most awesome photos of Shropshire, England, one I used as a new desktop wallpaper, and the others to file safely for my more melancholy days of appreciating great locations and fantastic photography such as hers. I'd never have guessed that she was so young with the delicate photos being mostly sensitive in selections and well-chosen to help color your wonderful account, as I almost feel as though I've been to both Shropshire and Slovenia now. As a retired teacher, and a hobbyist gardener, I thank you for your talents and sweet observations. God's many blessings to you, dear heart. "-" (07/19/2010)
Very well written. It made me laugh and feel like I was there. I could visually imagine your pole beans and the gestures and faces Tommy made. Thank you for sharing. JC in Illinois (07/20/2010)
By Glenna Rose
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