Derek – Friday 20th March 2020

A garden in the time of coronavirus. It is impossible to keep up. On Thursday 19 March, I wrote:

“With all local venues shutting down, we decided to swim against the tide, at least temporarily, and open up on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as our usual Friday and Saturday morning. Maybe no substitute for the National Theatre, but in a month we could be the only thing open, bar food shops, in Forest Gate.”

Well, that was a self satisfied paragraph, quickly contradicted by next day’s actions when it was decided that the Garden would close too. This is the great shutdown, the tune of our time. Forest Gayte Pride has been cancelled, library hours are cut, pubs, restaurants and leisure centres are closed too. What on earth are we all going to do?

Carry on and keep smiling in the spirit of the Blitz.

The garden, though, is still there, and doesn’t give a hang about coronavirus. Yellow is its colour: hosts of daffodils, the forsythia by the big sycamore, and a wallflower left in from last year. Competing is a spiraea, a fountain of white florets.

The pond is still wintery. A few iris spears are poking above the water line, while in a corner is an amorphous jelly of frogspawn, about the volume of a brick. I have noted the embryos for a few days, growing slowly, now as big as peppercorns. It will be a week or two yet before they hatch. Though if it stays as cold as it is today, then it will be longer.

There’s robins and sparrows at our feeders. We deter a voracious pigeon by putting a cage round one feeder, so some food is provided for the smaller birds. Soon they’ll be nesting. I’ll keep an eye on the bird boxes. I gave them all a scrub up in the autumn. Let’s see if it is appreciated.

Yesterday, I began the Cereal Project. Well, made it visible. It began way back in the autumn when I proposed the idea, which was to grow various cereals side by side so we can distinguish between them as they mature. Cereals are 40% of our diet, feeding much of the world, but us townies can’t tell one from the other. So let’s grow some together, was the thought, and maybe next time we get out to the countryside we’ll know what we are seeing.

I filled five cardboard boxes with compost and sowed the seeds. We want to see if the boxes will work as planters. We have: emmer wheat, Red Fife wheat, oats, barley and rye. It rained overnight and the boxes were wet. I decided to put the emmer wheat and Red Fife alongside, so we can note the difference once they grow. Emmer is a wheat which dates from 11 thousand years ago, one of the first crops grown in the Fertile Triangle of the Middle East, whereas Red Fife is a relatively modern Canadian wheat.

The cardboard boxes are on railway sleepers. I picked up the Red Fife to move it, and the box collapsed. Compost poured out of the bottom. The box was wet and couldn’t take the weight once lifted. I shouldn’t have tried, and maybe should have strengthened the base first. The box was too far gone to save, but I had another, so I transferred the compost and replanted the seeds. What a start to the project! Day two and a cardboard box is kaput. With six months to go, all the boxes are staying where they are, with the sleepers keeping the bottom in place.

Let’s hope.

There are four more cereals to plant, but they are less hardy, and so we’ll sow them in May. They are maize sweetcorn, dwarf multicoloured maize, rice and teff. The latter is a cereal from Ethiopia, with the tiniest seeds. I am curious how it will grow.

All well and good, but the garden has closed. The cereals will grow unseen. We’ll keep a record, take photos, and hope the garden is not shut for too long.

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