Getting a taste of home-grown!

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

I FEEL like I’m on set for a scene of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

My living room has become a make-shift infirmary.

My children, both clad in dressing gowns, are lying prostrate on the couch, sharing a woolly blanket and bleating out requests for juice, ice-cream and fruit pastilles.

In the kitchen a selection of medicine bottles is lined up on the counter, with a long list of instructions for dispensing.

I have taken on the role of nurse, taking temperatures with machine-like efficiency and trying to prevent my husband (he is Jack Nicholson’s character, Randle Patrick McMurphy, of course) from sowing seeds of rebellion in my young patients.

Both kids have tonsillitis. Raging temperatures, hacking coughs, sore throats and a touch of delirium.

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It’s been an exhausting week.

Sleepless nights and days of zoning out in front of Disney films.

My four-year-old daughter has missed the school photograph, sports day and a rehearsal for her impending dance show.

My two-year-old son has developed an unhealthy addiction to Calpol.

I, on the other hand, have rather enjoyed the break from normal routine.

Confined to the home to tend to the every whim of the ailing pair, I have been busy (in between dishing out the doses) gardening.

And whenever they can muster up the energy, I have insisted my children join me in the fresh air.

According to a health report some time ago, gardening is good for you both physically and mentally.

Researchers found that the pastime was one of the best for lowering blood pressure, increasing brain activity and producing a general upbeat feeling.

I can believe it. Recently, just looking at my garden has given me a real boost.

Being a complete novice – I took up the hobby only after my move from the city – I have been amazed by my own success.

My once-empty beds are now filled with a tangle of plants.

Without wanting to sound too smaltzy, I had no idea how satisfying it would be to plant a tiny seed and see it grow.

We now have a herb garden overflowing with lovely smells, a two-metre-long plot of sweet peas climbing up my carefully-constructed bamboo pyramids and roses trailing the fence.

In my raised flower bed, runner beans, broad beans, spinach, lettuce and radish jostle for space alongside some raspberry canes and strawberry plants. My favourite thing about home-grown fruit and veg is that the results are so tangible. You can see and taste your hard work. In line with my horticultural therapy for my two sick children, I insisted we pick some of our produce and try it out.

But as I marvelled at the nasturtiums decorating my bowl of fresh lettuce, they turned their noses up.

My daughter pointed beseechingly to a can of Green Giant sweetcorn sitting on the kitchen shelf.

“That would taste better with fish fingers,” she declared.

The next day I decided that if they were ever going to appreciate food that didn’t come in a tin decorated with a hulking great man wearing a loincloth of leaves, they would have to experience the miracle of growing something for themselves.

After their breakfast dose of antibiotics and a shot of vitamin drops we headed out on to the lawn.

I had already prepared a small patch of earth for them to play with and a basket full of seeds to choose from.

“Pick something you think you would like to eat,” I said. “And then we can plant the seeds. If you take care of them and water them every day, you might just be rewarded.”

My daughter searched through the paper envelopes and chose beetroot, which I taught her to sow in shallow drills in long lines, a few inches apart. My son chose pumpkin seeds. He has never tasted a pumpkin but I think he was just impressed with the picture of the large orange fruit on the front of the packet.

My daughter carefully watered the seeds as my son watched intently.

“Eat them?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I replied. “ You have to be patient and wait for them to grow.”

His brows furrowed in concentration. “Yummy,” he said.

The next morning we got up as usual to our daily dose of drugs. I settled the children in front of yet another Disney DVD and went back upstairs to make the beds.

Ten minutes later I returned to the living room to check on the patients.

My daughter was still engrossed in Beauty and The Beast.

“Where is your brother?” I asked.

“He went to see if his pumpkin has grown,” she replied, eyes still glued to the box.

I made my way through the kitchen to find the back door open.

And there he was, sat on the grass in his pyjamas, scooping up fistfuls of earth and shovelling them in his mouth.

“I like pumpkin, mummy,” he said with his mouth full. “You want some for breakfast?”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m pleased he is feeling well enough to stuff his face with compost, but I can’t help thinking he is one child that is going to take a lot of coaxing out of cloud cuckoo land.

Email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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