Self-sufficiency is best left to Seventies sitcom writers

Lynne looks forward to the first crop of runner beans... she may have to open a tin.

Lynne looks forward to the first crop of runner beans... she may have to open a tin. - Credit: Archant

Suddenly, my husband declared he would like to grow vegetables.

Not, you understand, that he was setting out to make a new career. It’s just that on our small corner of forever England, he decided we should go for something edible. All these years and now he turns into Mr McGregor.

I like flowers. Show me a hardy perennial and I am a happy woman.

hardy = needs little attention

perennial = comes up every year

Vegetables can be unpredictable – look at Esther Rantzen’s amusing carrots (c.1975).

Our one attempt was so embarrassing that we haven’t tried it again in more than 30 years... growing vegetables, that is.

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It was at our first home in 1978 that we had lofty ideas of self-sufficiency. I blame Felicity Kendal.

The sitcom The Good Life in which the petite actress played Barbara Good, wife of Tom (Richard Briers), was about a man who left his job and sought an economically neutral lifestyle by turning his garden into a small-holding.

In my opinion it was Felicity Kendall, whose nose, you may recall, crinkled when she smiled, who persuaded many red-blooded males that growing potatoes was the key to happiness.

Our experiment was doomed from the start. My nose only crinkles when I sneeze, I am not petite (size 6 in a welly) and I am not cut out for manual labour. Moreover, in our first garden, the soil was so undernourished the radishes bolted and reached a height of six-feet with no sign of a radish. The tomatoes we grew in the lean-to developed some form of plague which manifested itself in black spots. Lord only knows what happened to the lettuces.

It was a sign, we felt, that our future together would be better invested in perennials and bedding plants. This was borne out by my attempt to bring home lobelia only to find they were cabbages. And I only discovered this when my mum asked why we had alternated geraniums and savoy cabbages in the front garden. Over the years I have learned to tell the difference between brassicas and the small, flowering plant but claim no real expertise.

Then, a few weeks ago, after years of glorious floral displays my husband announced he would like to grow runner beans in our new flower bed.

“Okay, Mellors, whatever you want,” I said, anxious to maintain my non-interventionist role. At the local nursery he pored over the bean varieties, eventually selecting one that promised an attractive flower as well as a tasty bean.

So, in the middle of the bed which is planted out mostly with plants to attract bees such as broom, scabious and lupins, he positioned a wire obelisk and planted his beans around it. Three weeks later we noticed some tiny green shoots at the foot of the obelisk.

“I don’t think they’re beans. I think they’re weeds,” said my husband, disappointed.

The following day, my dad looked at them for us. He has been harvesting runner bean crops for more than 50 years and might be considered an expert in the field... well, in the garden, anyway.

He stared hard and then bent nearer to inspect the minute green leaves.

“They’re not beans,” he confirmed.

My husband decided to implement a cunning plan and is now hoping to raise individual bean plants that can be planted out when they’ve grown big enough. The kitchen windowsill now sports a line of plant pots. At time of writing, there’s nothing to report. No beans outside; no beans inside. I wonder if they’ve been nobbled, or maybe, nibbled. When we went round the Prince of Wales’s organic gardens last week... did I mention I’d visited Highgrove? (Yes, Lynne, you did. Ed)... the guide told us slugs are territorial. I don’t think she meant they build barricades and repel invaders with their slug guns (I’d guess they fire pellets), but that throwing them into the neighbour’s garden is not a solution, they will simply slither their way back into your garden.

This does not fully explain why slugs enter our garage through the cat flap, however.