I’ve met some mad keen – and venerable - vegetable growers in the past year. And sensed a theme.
First, though, they seemed almost taciturn, even grumpy. Then with the turn of a spigot I unleashed their inner passion – unwittingly.
I am very bad at small talk, but in the past 12 months I met these 3 wonderful – and elderly – men, all from the north-west Mediterranean area, and I uttered seemingly magical words...`do you like to garden?’ Abracadabra – we have entered a code word: Oh yes, and it always seems to be for vegetables, madly, keenly for vegetables, with a lifetimes experience and a wealth of knowledge which they are keen to share.
One explained how he was the first person to grow kale in this country (he wasn’t impressed with my Tuscan kale by the way, saying it doesn’t do well through winter (I’m not sure if I agree)); the next told me how to protect my broad beans from wintry winds (corrugated sheets upright around them if I remember correctly) then the other day another quiet man lit up as we began to chat. He’d grown a huge tomato last summer - `how big do you think?’ he demanded. `A kilo, half a kilo’ I ventured hesitantly. `Two and a half kilo’ he replied with enormous satisfaction. `No! Did it taste nice?’ `Yes’ `How? water, manure?’ `Lots of water’.
So I told him about how high my pea plants were...and we agreed that we preferred growing summer vegetables.
(And why, by the way, are vegetables seen as blokey while flowers are more likely to be grown by women?
I may be bad at small talk but now I’m going to ask everyone: `Do you like to garden?’
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)