Alex James: The Great Escape

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a rumour going around that a passion fruit vine would work on a south facing Oxfordshire wall. But the gardener's not convinced: he says it probably wouldn't bear fruit, and points out how the grapes never really get going round here. They're small and tough and it takes a lot of effort to stop them going wrinkly – a bit like Madonna.

"OK no passion fruit, but land cress is a must, I say." The gardener looks confused, "You know, it's like watercress, only it grows on land." I wonder for a second if I only dreamed about it, but no, it's definitely true. Claire has certainly been dreaming about it, though. She's pregnant and has developed a fascination with green salads. The fridge is full of watercress. It's a frustrating craving, because watercress grows wild at two spots on the farm, but we can't eat it because of the sheep. They can contaminate it with liver fluke, an unpleasant parasite. "Maybe we should sell the sheep and concentrate on the watercress?" I say. "We'd probably save money."

I'm sure we wouldn't though. For reasons I can't fathom it's usually more expensive to grow your own food than buy it. Even if I were paying myself the minimum wage to grow tasteless high yield tomatoes in polytunnels, it would still be cheaper to go to the supermarket.

It's worth growing your own, though. It's the time for planting, and there is a whole new garden to fill. I've gone for purple carrots and yellow cucumbers – anything I've never heard of, I sign up for with glee.

Private pilots refer to the £500 hamburger. They jump in their planes every weekend and fly half way across the country to eat an overcooked burger at another aerodrome. The bill for lunch, once all factors have been considered (fuel, insurance, training, aircraft depreciation and maintenance) is probably well north of a monkey.

As you may know, the house soufflé here came in at a surprisingly high figure and the salade-verte won't be far behind. I weighed up the greenhouse in the catalogue and thought it looked like good value. I ordered one and it arrived in ten thousand pieces. Then there's the base, the gravel, and the plants. I may have to rent it out as a holiday cottage. I think it would be cheaper to get Harrods to deliver our food.

Over the last week, the entire countryside has been teetering towards a slow but certain greenness. It's getting hard to see through hedges and sometimes it's noticeably warmer outside than in. Birdsong is faintly apparent, and doors and windows that wouldn't open last month now run freely. The roads were quiet last night, a tangible sense of peace and calm throughout the entire valley. Suddenly, everyone seemed to agree, it was nice just to dawdle and do nothing.

Comments