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Before coming to the keyboard for this morning's mass debating session, I engaged in a bit of stalking.

As any gardener will realise upon reflection, we are engaged in an adversarial and perverse business. We have launched ourselves onto the battlefield which is the natural order, with its insects, birds, rodents, molluscs, and weeds. Each of our adversaries is proceeding according to its prime directive: increase, multiply and subdue the competition, the competition, of course, being our desired crops.

The perversity of our enterprise becomes apparent when we realise that even our desired plants must be prevented from achieving their goals. In general we are seeking a situation where a plant, while attempting to reproduce, will produce the maximum of germ tissue, high in nutritive value for its intended offspring. This effort, although being encouraged, must also be repeatedly frustrated before the result is sufficiently mature to allow the parent to relax into senility, thus prolonging the period of desperate reproductive activity.

So we brutally snip off the broccoli's genital sprouts, the peas and beans before they ripen, the courgettes before they become marrows, the spinach tips, lettuces, radishes, rocket, etc. before they can 'go to seed'. For the biennial vegetables, we adopt a waiting game, encouraging them to build up a generous basement store of energy for next year's reproductive effort, secure in the knowledge that while they hibernate we can raid their cellar and feast on the product of their providence.

It's a cruel game, and our adversaries have developed a variety of scams and dodges to subvert our efforts, chiefly by camoflaging their flowers or fruit or hiding them within lush foliage in the hope of managing to bring at least a few children to maturity undetected. The bean family are perhaps the best and most persistent at this strategy, and the gardener must stalk through masses of luxuriant leaves seeking the dangly bits before they become engorged and coarse. It seems that no matter how thoroughly I have picked over a row, going at it from both sides and from knees to tiptoe, when I turn to go houseward, I'll spot yet another overfattened fruit smugly hiding in plain view. As I pluck this last one, I smile in the resigned certainty that there remains yet another undetected.

Oh, well. For those who grow flowers (other than of the cauli- sort), the process is even more perverse. We breed and select the plants with the most outrageous, gaudy, and odiferous genitals so that we can castrate them and display the organs in our domestic premises. We also present the objects of our affection with such trophies as tokens of our amorous intentions or when seeking forgiveness for some transgression. Huge quantities of floriferous sacrifice accompany many of our various rites of passage, from cradle to grave.

This has become the basis of a globalised trade in which the poor of African slums are kept awake at night by the sound of jet aircraft flying overhead, laden with untaxed aviation fuel and the reproductive organs of plants grown in polytunnel slavery, chilled out and bound for the markets of the 'developed' world. The next time you tuck into some out-of-season mange tout or beautiful baby green beans, or receive a gift of flowers, spare a thought for those poor sleep-deprived souls who may consider themselves lucky to be eating some poor porridge from a sack of food-aid.

Better still, grow your own.


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