Rarely can a tomato have shared such a noble vista

Given the perfect greenhouse -- his office - Michael Williams decided to see what his seedlings made of life on the 18th floor
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The Independent Online
I have never been able to boast much about my indoor tomatoes. The `Big Boys' have always turned out to be rather small, unripened boys, while `Growers' Pride' were a dismal case of grower's shame. But this year, I am able to make a very tall claim indeed - my office tomatoes could well be the highest in the land.

Flourishing against the window in the south-west corner of the 18th floor of Canary Wharf tower, Britain's highest building, they have basked in conditions these past few weeks that only altitude can offer. They are bathed in light and heat for most of the day as the sun sweeps round from the Greenwich Royal Observatory in the south to set over the City of London to the west. Rarely can a humble tomato have shared such a noble vista.

It all started with a chance remark from a colleague and a packet of seed from Woolworth's. "You couldn't find a better greenhouse," he said, as we juggled with blinds to stem the spring sunshine streaming through the ceiling-to-floor windows. It seemed worth 95p to put it to the test.

But it was not simply a horticultural experiment. A few burgeoning seedlings along the windowsill seemed the perfect way to humanise what some might reckon to be the ultimate dehumanised environment. The Canary Wharf complex is well provided with plant life, much of it immaculate like the offices and malls it adorns, but it seems to have been plucked rather uneasily from somewhere else where it would probably have been happier. The plane trees that line the avenues were transplanted in semi- maturity from the Netherlands. The office spaces abound with manicured monsteras and yuccas, while regimented impatiens would pass any Gardener's Question Time test of horticulturally correct planting.

By contrast, my little tomato seedlings seemed subversively natural. And it was more subversive still, trudging a 30-litre sack of John Innes No 2 past security guards, through marble halls and up in the lift.

Potting-on invited other departures from office protocol as the fledgeling plants provoked closet gardeners to reveal themselves. "I hope you're taking those side-shoots off," observed the home editor. "Unless your trusses have set by 13 July," the comment page editor fretted, "you might as well give up." The economics columnist muttered darkly about the air- conditioning and lack of humidity. Reporters contemplated an investigation into whether they were really cannabis plants in disguise. (And I never discovered who had festooned them with bananas when I arrived back from holiday.)

Meanwhile, the plants grew and grew, succoured by a watering rota organised by the deputy editor and fuelled by regular shots of Tomorite fertiliser. Word even reached the Daily Telegraph downstairs on the 11th floor, which published a diary item in its Peterborough column. That was when the plants were 3ft high. Now they are a healthy 4ft, with plump, ripening trusses. And not a sign of blossom-end rot, leaf roll, verticulum wilt - or any other wilt for that matter.

Admittedly, I could have been more diligent. There have been a few split skins as temperatures have outpaced our watering efforts. But I am confident that in a week or so I shall have what seed catalogues describe as a "bumper crop".

I still have a niggling worry: my tomatoes may have enjoyed the high life, but are they - at 260ft above the ground - really the highest? I offer this challenge: a chance to sample the first of the crop and a bottle of champagne to wash it down for anyone who can claim to have grown the highest office tomato. Write to: High Life, Michael Williams, Executive News Editor, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL.