Guardians Get Gardening

Brighton is a paradise for foodies – you can buy delicious ingredients and fresh food for all tastes, and shop in grocery stores offering delights from almost everywhere on the planet. However, it’s amazingly difficult to find tomatoes which are even halfway decent. Most of the ones on offer seem to be wholly devoid of flavour (a particularly bad offender being a variety which one supermarket laughably calls ‘Flavouripe’). Some of the guardians were discussing this earlier in the year when the idea was hatched to grow our own – and indeed, create our very own vegetable garden in the heart of the city.

Being situated in the middle of a big concrete car park doesn’t bode well for lush greenery, however. We had to plan for everything to be grown in containers, but our requests to access the roof and/or some of the car parking spaces for these were turned down, so we had to get creative with the space that was left. We noted carefully how many hours of sunshine per day fell on the nooks and crannies around our building, and the optimum suntraps were assiduously mapped out. We started sourcing seeds and investigating varieties, and settled on six types of tomatoes (Marmande, Golden Sunrise, Garden Pearl, Sweet Million, Ukrainian Purple and Orange Paruche), two types of peppers (Topepo Rosso and Banana Peppers), two types of aubergine (Purple and White Finger), two types of cucumber (Cucamelon and Lemon Cucumber) and some courgettes.

Suddenly, every available surface was covered in seedling trays, and soon the little blighters were poking through the soil and announcing their presence. Mere days later we had a riot of green on our hands – in the kitchen, in the lounge, on the dining table; on windowsills, footstools and stairs. We ran out of seedling trays and started sawing plastic bottles and tetrapaks in half and using those.

The best growers were the Marmande tomatoes – these are the ‘beefsteak’ ones which will expand almost to the size of a child’s head. They’re rapacious, and started exploding out of their pots almost too fast to deal with. At the other end of the scale were the Orange Paruche tomatoes. Don’t plant Orange Paruche tomatoes – they’re lazy and slow and spindly, and they’ll flop around and fall over and just end up disappointing you. Not one of them looks like it’s even thinking of making anything worth eating.

Very soon the weighty business of potting the plants out into containers began. After a generous donation to the project from Lowe, we were able to afford a poly greenhouse, some plant pots, fertiliser and other equipment. We had some soil delivered by a nice man in a truck. We invested in a compost bin, and someone found a water butt. We found out what ‘hardening off’ and ‘pinching out’ meant. We even researched the latest in anti-snail measures. This was serious.

Our project suffered the first major setback when the greenhouse suddenly collapsed under the weight of pots on its shelves in a stiff wind. We lost a few plants but managed to shore up the damage, reinforce the structure and soldier on.

We’re at the stage now where diligent watering and plant care has conspired to cause outbreaks of tiny tomatoes and peppers to start appearing, and we believe we can smell the most wonderful ratatouille on the horizon. Leaves are growing broad and reaching high to soak up maximum sun. The cucamelons are firing off long shoots which grab and wrap around anything in their path, and one particularly voracious and unruly tomato plant in our main lounge has hit the ceiling and started spreading out along it like some gloriously unkempt Christmas garland.

We’re planning to find some more soil soon and fill up an old bathtub someone discovered at the side of the road, which would provide a perfect home for some courgettes. Our resident handyman Hugo has made some planters out of old pallets, in which we’ll be growing a variety of herbs to add some sparkle to the veg. We’re saving all the glass jars we use in the house, with a view to making pickles, sauces and preserves to keep over for winter. And our flower beds out front have been planted with roses and should soon explode into a frenzy of vibrant colour and joy. We’re ready for a nutritious and bountiful summer!

Dominic Martin (Brighton Head Guardian)