Alex James: The Great Escape

'I have grown the perfect potato! I am transported into a realm of cosmic benevolence'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a well buried under some concrete in the back garden. It's the third one I've found around the yard and the deepest, maybe 40ft, and beautifully constructed from engineering bricks. Even when all Europe was dry as a biscuit in July, it was full of water, calmly suggesting vast unknowns.

I bought a timer switch, some hosepipe and the cheapest pump from the bodger's bible - the Screwfix catalogue - and connected it all to a sprinkler-whizzer in the vegetables. The bargain pump didn't have enough oomph to whiz the sprinkler, but by this time my dad had taken an interest in the automatic hydrostatic vegetable generator and we had both become intrigued by pumps. I ordered the next biggest one from Screwfix, and he picked up a petrol-driven colossus at auction. There were teething problems with popping clips and punctures, but by the time the heatwave arrived we were in business and the little vegetables were getting a spectacular Versailles spray for an hour every morning.

We got back from holiday at the weekend to a bulging beanfeast. The beetroot were plump and handsome; the sweetcorns were standing proud; the peas were a superabundant shambles. There were lettuces doing all kinds of things, probably trying to evolve. They rarely get the chance.

The spud sector was out of control like a porno spam engine. I knelt at the row of friendly looking shrubs and stuck my hand into the earth, which was cool, damp and giving. There was a perfect potato nestling there, and another one here. They were everywhere and they didn't seemed to be attached to anything. I knew I'd planted them and I was expecting it to work but there was something inexplicably wonderful about those potatoes. There were flies and wasps everywhere and I had dirt under my fingernails and damp knees, but I was transported by potato into a realm of cosmic benevolence. I realised I was grinning. I will never go to a supermarket again without wishing I was pulling things out of the garden. It was like the first time I went in a helicopter and realised that cars just wouldn't do any more.

I've done nothing to any of the fruit trees, but they are thriving like China. It's hard to cope with the wealth of soft fruit in its glory in the orchard at the moment. One tree produces enough plums to feed Fontainebleu, but they all come at once. At first I thought it a terrible waste, but it's not - any more than an oak tree is a waste just because we don't eat the acorns. It's the way things should be.

Still, I've got my pickling jars ready. There were hundreds of blue plums, which were still tart before we went on holiday. I knew we shouldn't have gone anywhere. When we got back there wasn't a trace of a blue plum to be found. The trees were all planted quite cleverly so that they fruit in succession. The yellow plums have been good this week. It's surprising how different fruit from the same tree can taste. Next week, peaches. It's very exciting.

a.james@independent.co.uk

Comments