From the Allotment

When I was growing up I never imagined that I would find the lifestyle that Tom and Barbara led appealing. Opening with the midlife crisis of Tom Good, a 40-year-old plastics designer, “The Good Life” related the joys and miseries he and his wife Barbara experienced when they attempted to escape modern commercial living by becoming totally self-sufficient in their home in Surbiton. I recall one particular episode where Tom and Barbara conducted a scientific experiment to see whether talking to plants made a difference to their growth and Barbara named her beansprout Douglas.

Many years later I find myself totally consumed by the practice of horticulture, or rather growing vegetables in my case. I have been waiting for the lure of motorbikes to present itself to my significant middle years for a while but it seems that the hoe has been my calling. About two years ago I started with some carrots and potatoes and now my garden is swamped in a plethora of vegetables, from chard, sprouts and lettuce to broad beans and even garlic. I note “even garlic” after last year’s attempt did not work. The revelation came following my failure to note I needed to plant the individual cloves rather than the whole bulb! Well, part of gardening is trial and error.

My love for growing vegetables, and more recently flowers too, has grown like the plants themselves. I am finding myself looking for more and more space as I discover yet more seeds have germinated on the conservatory windowsill and need to be repotted. It has become all-consuming at times – my first job when I return from work every evening is to check on my plants (after I have said hello to the children).

According to a report online by Wyevale Garden Centres, tomatoes are the nation’s most-popular fruit or vegetable, with a vote of 73% among those who had ever grown herbs, fruit or vegetables. My greenhouse and subsequent overflow areas of the garden certainly support this.

So what is the fascination? For me it is almost the awe and wonder of nurturing a seed to the point where I am eating the vegetables that I have grown at the dinner table. There is a real sense of achievement, which has often taken many weeks of care. Secondly it gets me outside. In our busy lives I can sometimes find I have spent the majority of my day inside and just getting some air makes all the difference. Finally, and possibly most significantly, it slows me down. Gardening is not an activity that can be conducted at speed. There is no advantage to getting the task completed quickly. Indeed many gardening activities need to be slow and steady. I like this – it gives me the opportunity to think.

Sowing seeds and watching the plants grow is a great way to relieve stress and remain mindful of your surroundings. If your family would like some suggestions the following comes from Gardener’s World (

  • Beetroot is an easy crop to grow, making it ideal for beginners. It will grow in any fertile, well drained soil and also does well in containers. Follow the spacing on the packet and thin the seedlings to about 10cm when they are around 3cm high. Harvest when the beets have reached golf ball size.
  • Swiss chard is a beautiful crop for a sunny or partially shaded spot and can be sown directly outside in April.
  • Courgettes, marrows, squashes, cucumbers and pumpkins are known as cucurbits, and can all be sown in the same way – in individual 5cm pots, under cover. Plant outside once the danger of frost has passed (cucumbers often do best in a greenhouse).

I have three courgette seedlings which will need planting out soon. This year, however, my son is in charge, so he says. The problem last year was that they just kept coming and they grew so quickly that the courgettes became the most enormous marrows, which then appeared in pretty much every dish presented to my children in the evenings. There is only so much marrow a young man can take, apparently!

A great activity I remember from my childhood is growing beans in a jam jar.  


  1. Swirl a small amount of water around the jar.
  2. Fold your napkin or kitchen roll and place in the jar. (we made the kitchen roll very slightly damp also)
  3. Place the bean seed in the jar resting on the napkin.
  4. Spray some water on the bean every few days.

The bean should start to grow roots after a few days.

I am going to start one of my own and publish photographs on our social media channels. It would be lovely if the children could join me. If you would like to take part please use the hashtag #YateleyManorGardeners and we will see how our bean community grows.

I think I am going to call my beansprout Gary. I’m off to talk to Gary now!

Happy gardening everyone.


Robert Upton