The last few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time in my vegetable garden. The great annual tidal wave of soft fruit is there to be picked, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and salads are all there in abundance. The field beans (rather like broad beans, but even hardier) are mainly harvested by now: some we’ve eaten as a cooked vegetable in all manner of dishes, a favourite being lightly cooked and marinated in a dressing and served like an Italian antipasto, also we’ve frozen lots for the winter. I’m sure my urban garden is now producing more food than my old smallholding ever did, despite being a tiny fraction of the size.
One of the great joys this year has been the abundance of wildlife. The thrushes nesting in the neighbours’ sycamore tree have raised at least one brood of chicks. Hearing them crack open snails on the concrete path one realises the importance of helpful predators, and we’ve plenty of frogs and toads eating the slugs and ladybirds and spiders to eat the aphids. Sparrows and blackbirds seem to be breeding better than ever and from time to time a sparrowhawk comes to pick off the odd one. In winter sometimes we hear a tawny owl. All pretty good for a city centre garden! I hear goshawks are now nesting in Berlin. I’d love them to come over here. Pigeons ate a lot of my young pea and climbing bean plants this year, and pecked a lot of holes in the chard, so having some local goshawks to cull the pigeons would certainly help my vegetable production!
Last winter I read George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’. A fascinating read about re-wilding the British countryside. Current farming practices have denuded much of our rural biodiversity, and in many instances our urban landscapes are better for wildlife. Our garden has lots of species of bumble bee this year, and in large numbers. Gardens and allotments have a vital role to play both in terms of food production and in terms of providing a refuge for wildlife, and joy for us humans.