Pride and joy
Our ‘Guernsey Gardener in London’, Paul Savident, reminisces about childhood lawns as he prepares to leave his allotment behind...
I KNOW I’ve said this before, and I know I’ll say it again, but where did the last month go?
April seemed to breeze in and whisper out without any major happenings – no bluster, no fanfare, it just quietly ticked by. It now feels like a month when we just got on with things at home and where I just got on with things at the plot, quietly and methodically, simply getting stuff done, our home being prepared for future sale and the plot for the bounty it will give us this year, albeit smaller than previous years as we’re growing quite a bit less.
As sun shone, rain pelted, drizzle did its thing and air currents wafted far above bringing stillness or light winds to the plot, I just got on with what needed doing. Seeds were sown, plants were watered, grass was strimmed and the dandelions gave their annual Dandy Lion display, catching the eye as any lion does and with a full golden mane of glory stating to us all that they are the kings of springtime, whether strutting their stuff in overgrown grass or roaring their glorious show while nestled in the tiniest crack of pavement. I have to say that despite their boundless seeds, which I’m sure we all blew as youngsters to tell the time, the sight of dandelions in bright spring sunshine is something to always cherish.
Dad’s lawns were always spectacular and would have put to shame even the best kept bowling greens. They really were Dad’s pride and joy of the garden, and never more so than when sown from scratch at Basmarie in Clos du Coin, where we used to live.
We were one of the first to move in as other houses on the plan continued to be built, and as these houses were built, so did Mum and Dad build our garden. The sandy soil was a boon for grass, and much else as well. The lawns Dad created acted as the gentle backdrop to all else, allowing Mum and Dad to paint with plants, vegetables and flowers and grow yet another garden to behold.
At each of the homes I’ve lived with my family, the garden was something to treasure and enjoy, whether in times of quiet solace or with screams of my nephews and niece as Dad conjured another trick with a hidden pound note or a ‘behind-the-ears’ pound coin. Happy days indeed, though back to those swathes of green velvet…
I’ve so many memories of family life and gardening, and growing with Mum and Dad in particular, though one of the many strongest memories of Dad is his trawling his lawns with a keen eye and a penknife in hand. There was only one plant that dad would accept in his lawns, and that was grass. No dandelions, no daisies, nothing other than tightly-clipped shards of soft-to-the-touch grass that made bare feet feel as if walking along folded silk. As soon as Dad saw anything other than grass, over he would bend with his penknife opening as he did so, and the dandelion or daisy or buttercup seedling that had found its lodging would be gently cut out and rehoused - either to a compost bin as dark as night inside, or to bask on a piece of brick or concrete block where it would bake away in the sun till crisp. This chore, which Dad always saw as meditation time, would happen almost daily, with no stray plant ever being allowed to take hold. Add to this Dad’s mowing of our lawns twice weekly at this time of year and throughout the summer, and the sight and feel of these impeccably tended swathes is something I’ll never forget, and likely never replicate either.
We’ve a small new lawn in our back garden which Richard seeded last year. It does have a number of stray plants – self-seeded cyclamen, forget-me-nots, daises, and the occasional dandelion. In our back garden this looseness of allowing other plants to grow within the lawn works well. There’s a time and place for both styles, and all others in between, and this is very much the same I believe in all aspects of life – structure and rigidity and freedom and flexibility sitting side by side and intermingled, creating uniqueness alongside traditional ways.
The back garden and outside of our house received a lot of attention, especially over the Easter weekend. Painting was done to freshen up areas of the outside of our home, much weeding, the first strim of the year of our petal-doused lawn, pots refreshed with pansies from the garden centre, shrubs shaped, ivy removed from our great pear tree, and many green bags filled and popped at the front of the property to await collection to be turned into compost via our local council. And just as at home, there was still much going on at the plot, plus a realisation.
With our expected move from the area in a few months’ time, the number of seeds being sown is much less than previous years, and sowing of leafy brassicas and parsnips is simply not happening. Most of the varieties of vegetables that I’ve sown will give us harvests through to September and possibly October, by which time my plot is likely to have a different tenant as we’ll have vacated, and it will become someone else’s place of work and joy.
I’ve sown Guernsey Island and Black Krim tomatoes – far fewer varieties this year than our usual eight, or 10, or 12.
I’m still sure these Guernsey Island toms are not Guernsey toms – sent last year from New Zealand by a subscriber to our YouTube channel, they seem smaller and with green flecks still when ripe, and I simply don’t remember green flecks in any of the tomatoes we used to pick up from the mouth of the vinery up Rue du Lorier when we were kids – in plywood boxes and given away free due to there being a glut.
The Black Krim tomatoes are a Crimean variety, with skin and flesh that is flecked with deep reds and black when ripe – full of taste if somewhat unusual by sight.
I’ve also sown further lettuce seed, a successional sowing to the ones I did back in March, which are now planted out into a raised bed, one of which also now homes London Market, Early Nantes and Amsterdam Forcing carrots. The carrots have germinated well despite the frequently cold weather through April – those sparse afternoons of amazingly bright and warm sunshine where two T-shirts was enough to work in certainly helped them on their way. I’m particularly pleased that the London Market seedlings are growing well as they’re from our own saved seed; sown in 2021 and harvested as seed in 2022, they’ve stored well and are clearly viable having been kept in an airtight plastic box in our fridge. Of course, we’ll have to wait for these to grow the root and mature to see whether our seed-saving has been a total success - as with many things, time will tell.
April also saw me sowing yellow courgette seeds, the last of a packet we bought a few years ago. I’ve not harvested courgette seeds ever, though it’s something I’ve on my list to do in our growing years to come.
I did sow our own cucumber saved seed of one we grew last year, the seed of which had already been saved by a friend allotmenteer in her garden for many a year.
The seedlings of both the courgettes and cucumbers are doing very well, with 100% germination, which always brings a smile, just like dandelions always do.
And it was whilst blowing the seeds off a dandelion with one strong puff that it dawned on me that this would likely be the last year I’d be doing this at this allotment site. Whilst the seeds would flutter and blow in the breeze, landing and germinating within weeks if finding a crevice to lodge within, there would be little more puffing to let seeds sail away done by me on this plot. You see, while dandelions are glorious, look resplendent and are an essential source of food for bees and around 50 other pollinators, I would be managing them in the coming weeks and months, and trying to not let them set seed. After their glory in flower and satiating pollinators, I’ll be pulling most of the heads off before they get to the stage of that glorious puffball. I love them, though with around 200 seeds per head they can become rather invasive.
So ‘off with their heads’ it will be, though I’m sure I’ll allow myself a few more times in the weeks ahead to tell the time with the help of a dandelion or two.
Paul Savident and his partner Richard LeightonHammond live in Hanwell in west London. As YouTubers they produce two weekly shows, Sunday Chat and A Week At The Plot. www. richardandpaul.com