Modern-day sharing croppers

By

I'm not talking to Jimmy Hughes. He's pulled his first turnips. How dare he! Mine are a mere hand-span high, with thready roots. Jimmy's are mature and magnificent, their 18-inch leaves a fanfare of green, their roots plump white globes.

"How do you do it?" I ask. He smiles smugly, imparting no secrets. Then, to add insult to injury, he gives me a fistful of them!

Actually, I thanked Jimmy sincerely. I even promised I wouldn't pretend, when I got them home, that I'd grown them. We plotters are a touch competitive, but it's nothing serious. A gift of produce may be a disarming way of saying "look how good my crop is," but it is still, above all, a gift.

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From the moment I first had a plot, I was aware of the undoubted pleasure plotters take in giving other plotters vegetables or plants.

More than once I arrived at my plot, still then a passable replica of a primeval wilderness, to find a bag of potatoes, a head of lettuce, some spinach, a bunch of parsley or leek plants hanging on the fence or deposited near the gate. I was more than touched by this generosity. It was like a welcome, an acceptance.

These gifts were usually anonymous. Part of the game is that you then have to find who grew them, the Macleods, Red, Big Ted, Joe Gallagher....

Monty was the first. Her presents tended to be of more permanent things: raspberry canes, comfrey (for its virtues as a composting plant), and a handful of knobby Jerusalem artichoke roots. We ate them. She intended that I plant them. She gave me some more.

I do like Jerusalem artichokes to eat, but growing them has its hazards. They spread like wildfire. They grow to 10 feet, and fall and break in Glasgow winds. This is not comfortable for nearby vegetables. Also - and Monty did warn me - if you want to move or eliminate them, they do not make it easy. The least rootlet left in the earth sprouts with every intention of reaching 10 feet again by October. There are gifts ... and there are gifts.

When I look around my plot, the plants I most appreciate are the ones that arrived as gifts. Red chard coming up nicely from seed sent me by the Visiting Artist (who also gave me my three stupendous globe artichokes - or are they cardoons? Nobody seems too sure).

Collards almost visibly bigger by the day are from a splendid parcel of seeds mailed as a surprise by an American friend. Marigolds from Jeannie's seed (because I admired them). Red's rhubarb. Half a dozen "perpetual" spinach plants Tommy Docherty proffered the day before yesterday. And Bob O'Neill's borage.

Bob has been promising me some of his borage for ages, and now he's appeared with two fine plants. I hadn't the heart to tell him I had finally sown my own a month ago. In no time now I'll have plenty to give away myself.

ALLOTMENT giving (and naturally I do my best to reciprocate) is an extension of something that occurs among gardeners in general. It is a happy survival of primitive bartering, or just the sharing of superfluity, in a world where virtually everything is price-tagged.

Tonight we ate the Hughes turnips. They tasted fresh. And better still, they tasted free. Oh, I dunno. Maybe I'll start speaking to him again.

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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