November 2009

I had an odd and unsettling experience on the train a couple of days back. Three lads boarded and settled into the carriage where I was sitting. Two were ordinary boys pretending to be bad, but the third, who they seemed to only vaguely know and had hooked up with on the platform, was clearly a different kettle of frogs.

They’d all a bit of drink and weed on board. The thing with that is that it’s different to gauge what’s going on. A drunk is readable, as is a stoner. But someone who’s been mixing it? Very tricksy. Added to which the third individual (who I shall call Crazy Larry) had burns on his hands, which I would imagine were more likely to have come from smoking crack than arc welding.

They were very loud and knockabout centring their attentions on the people who were ignoring them. So far, so predictable.

On showing interest in what I was doing (making some college notes from a book on commercial veg growing) they were a bit thrown by my actually telling them properly what I was up to. Having breached their cool they responded by asking if I could grow them some cannabis if they gave me some seeds.

They were again slightly wrong-footed when I replied by asking whether I’d need a lighting rig. This started a surprisingly earnest conversation about growing weed.

And I can tell you those boys have some serious, and I mean serious horticultural skills. They could get a place at this college no bother.

Throughout all this Crazy Larry had thrown in various comments including, it has to be said, some really good specific plant cultivation details.

But all of a sudden the mood turned and he looked me in the eyes and said “Give me some money.”

“I ain’t got no money,” I replied somewhat untruthfully.

“Give me some money.”

“I ain’t got no money.”

“Give me some money.”

“I ain’t got no money.”

“Show me,” he said.

“And get my cards snatched – you must be joking”,  I thought.

We’d reached a stand off and I was expecting the inevitable.

The other two lads clearly weren’t keen to be party to this and one pointed out that there was CCTV in the carriage.

This was not enough for Crazy Larry (by now there was clearly some amount of face involved) and he continued to stare me out.

“What’s the best thing for growing weed in?” I asked. “Do you need a hydroponic set-up?”

He shook his head. The other two joined in, pouring scorn on this suggestion and we were off – the moment had passed. We were back taking about GYO. There was some dispute about whether you need both male and female plants, or should just grow female. FYI Males = white hairs, no buds. Females brown hairs, buds.

Crazy Larry then embarked on a full set of instructions for growing cannabis outdoors. Briefly -plant under protection in April. Harvest when it falls in October. A lot of it seemed to have be learned at his father’s knee including how to create makeshift cloches.

I kept the conversation going by asking various horticultural questions (to be frank, they knew so much I could have taken notes and I was genuinely impressed). The talk was still going on when the train arrived at my station.

By that time the menace had retreated, but I was still glad to get off.

Odd to think that amongst all the things horticulture has given me, one of them is some knowledge that stopped me from being mugged.

That might sound dramatic but I’ve been around long enough to know that, at one point, that was very much what was on the cards.

Now what do I do with all my newfound knowledge?


What’s that old saw about one door opening…?

Is there, I wonder, a horticultural equivalent?

If so, I have a real, live example. Feeling a bit fed up the day my galangal finally died (mainly because I was looking forward to seeing it grow, but also because it cost me fifteen quid), I got home to find that two of my Morinda citrifolia seeds had germinated.

Never heard of it?

Neither had I until I saw it on a Rick Stein cookery programme.

It has a number of common names Great Morinda, Indian Mulberry, Beach Mulberry, Cheese fruit tree and also Vomit fruit tree.

Native to SE Asia it has been spread through the world, especially the Pacific and Tahiti is one of the main growing areas.

In Indonesia, or Malaysia (I forget which) they use the green glossy leaves in cooking, but elsewhere they seem to eat the fruit (called Noni in Hawaii), but apparently only as a famine food – I gather from the last of the common names listed above that it doesn’t taste great. It has however been used medicinally and there are claims of the health benefits of the juice.

I bought the seeds over t’internet back at the beginning of the summer, nicked the thick outer seedcoats on of 3 of them and sat the pots on a sunny window sill.


During my period of illness a couple of months back, as well as being perpetually grumpy, I was extremely bored. At some point I found the packet of Morinda seeds. They’re about the size of apple pips by the way. When I dropped three in a glass of water they all floated; generally a sign that a seed is dead.

Three things occurred to me:

They were dead.

The seed coat was so thick and woody it might be making them float.

Floating might be a dispersal mechanism for a plant that is called the Beach Morinda.

So I left them for 24 hours to see what happened.

They carried on floating.

I was probably seriously ill for a bit because they stayed in the water for two more days.

They carried on floating.

So I fished them out, pared off thickish slivers of seed coat and put them in a lidded, flat plastic container on a bed of wet kitchen roll. This little box I placed on the floor of the airing cupboard, which is very warm sitting as it does directly above heating pipes and also because there are gaps between the floor boards.

And then I forgot about them.

A month later, the day I came home disappointed that my Alpinia had gone for a burton, something made me check the airing cupboard and I found that two seeds had germinated.

I potted both on, but only one has thrown up a shoot.

It seemed to me that they were the glossiest seed leaves I had ever seen and the little chap is getting VIP treatment.

The only trouble is that I find on checking that it could grow into a 30ft tree.

I got caught in the rain last Thursday.

Not like me, as I normally have my umbrella.

It’s the one thing that cheers me up when it’s raining. Not because it keeps me dry – which it does admirably – but because it reminds me of Little Boots.

Last year, after I’d expressed some vague admiration for an umbrella featured in a magazine, the OH ordered one in time for Christmas.

Fortuitously it arrived when I was out and was duly wrapped by OH & LB.

From a child’s perspective this was clearly a rather crap present and, with some kind of pre-school kind of “do unto others…” thing troubling the conscience, said little mite marched up to the sofa where I was sat.

“Do you want an umbrella for Christmas?”

“That would be great,” I replied with a grin.

“OK,“ said shortstuff, clearly puzzled by an adult pleased with what was to the younger mind a really rubbish present, but also happy that it was a good gift.

“Don’t go in my wardrobe!“ warned the munchkin and marched off.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “So I’ve got an umbrella. Now how do I persuade the little beggar to inadvertently spill on the rest?”

Nothing worked.

I ventured down the allotment yesterday for the first time since I fell ill; so that must be 2 months or so. I was dreading it. Not just because of the likelihood it had all gone to rack and ruin, but also in case I met any of the Site Stasi down there, because being ill for the longest period in my life was likely to be viewed as a poor excuse for letting things slip.

There was one small glimmer amongst this prospect – the thought of trying out a recent gift of a pair of 160S Felcos.

Having put it off for most of the morning on the pretext that it might start raining again, there was no delaying it any further, so I set about gathering my stuff together.

“I want to come” announced Little Boots, who had been in all morning and had cabin fever. My heart sank. When tiny, LB had loved the allotment, once announcing it to be “The best place in the world” and was content to sit and dig for worms in the mud. More recent visits have been less sedate and involved tearing around the site like a demented spaniel.

The combination of an allotment looking a mess, with a lot of work to do, a small bored child, and the village nazis clucking did not appeal one tiny bit. But, taking a deep breath I said “OK”.

But I really needn’t have worried. Of course nothing grows much in September and October, so there wasn’t as much to do as I feared. And the dull drizzly weather meant we were the only ones on site. But the best bit was Little Boots, keen to be given jobs to do. True none of these jobs engaged the mite very much, but then the Felcos appeared. Seeing that I had 2 pairs of secateurs, the munchkin did that thing that small children do and immediately assumed that was one was theirs.

The S in 160S is for Small, but it just as well could stand for Sport as they have rather whizzy black and red handles and made “ordinary” Felcos look just that. Consequently they appealed no-end, as did Little Boots until I relented and allowed some closely supervised cutting.

It ended up with LB, now an expert in pruning, being allowed to look after the Sports Secateurs, provided they weren’t removed from my full size holster. I looped it, bandolier-style, on a piece of string across the munchkin’s chest and there followed a period of instruction from the small person – marching around the site and pointing out what things the adult should cut down next.

We eventually scuttled off home with some lettuce, wild rocket, and the last few courgettes that had survived. Oh and a gherkin the size of a hand-grenade.

And, (how could I forget?) masses of Runner and French bean pods. The idea was that we would both shell them when we got in. A fun job I thought. Unfortunately I didn’t account for The Wizard of Oz being on telly, and was left alone with the beans and a pile of muddy clothes.


Seeing some new planting in progress is always exciting – wondering what’s going in and how it will be set out.

There’s a small out-of-the-way garden I pass quite often that’s described as “beautiful and secluded” place in a book I have on local horticultural topics.

You can tell that was written a while ago, because the “inspired planting” looks sad and tired now. The roses are past their best and the ornamental grasses are so congested that it’s been possible to cut them into strange shapes with a hedge-trimmer.

Or rather it was.

Walking past recently I saw that a lot of the beds had been cleared. I wasn’t expecting much from the local council – once I saw one of their men weeding with a screwdriver – but a big stack of soil improver did give a glimmer of hope that some decent horticulture was going on.

Perhaps it did, but it was certainly let down by the plant selection side of things. When I passed by a week later, it was pretty grim; they’d filled the beds with Laurel (yawn), Aucuba (yuk), a rash of nasty variegated Vincas and a rather vile marriage of Phormiums and Ivy.

What a shame. it would have been nice to see it “inspired” and “beautiful” again.