Thursday, September 01, 2011

Skullduggery in the vegetable patch

Ahh, September. The month when the clouds of August roll back, the winds die down, the rain subsides and the sun bursts forth once more, just in time for everyone to go back to work.

All that remains of the summer holidays are memories, blurred photos of the family huddled miserably in the lee of a Welsh slate quarry, and bills.

Let’s not be gloomy, though. Because apart from meteorological schadenfreude, the end of summer also means the start of the vegetable show season.

Growers everywhere are preparing their prize specimens for display, and the methods they use to ensure success make the mind boggle.

Some competitors swear by secret potions. If you’ve ever wondered how that prize-winning pumpkin got so plump, then it’s probably thanks to regular doses of tea leaves, scrumpy and Bovril, drip-fed straight to the roots.

Some resort to furniture polish. It’s a well-known fact in horticultural circles that a quick spritz of Mister Sheen will give your best King Edwards the glossy shine they need to catch the judges’ eyes. And noses.

Some resort to trickery. Without giving away too many secrets, tying little kitchen weights to the ends of your runner beans is a favourite way of getting them to grow straight and true.

And while frowned upon in the bean-growing fraternity, the practice isn’t exactly illegal. As long as you don’t get caught.

No, the world of prize vegetable growing is a tough one, with no quarter asked or given. And anyone who enters it had better keep their wits about them.

It’s thus with some trepidation that we Dixons view the approach of this year’s Weston Village Flower Show, which takes place on Saturday, September 3 in the All Saints Centre, starting at 2.30pm.

Not that any of the competitors would stoop to skullduggery, you understand, but because our family reputation is at stake.

Mrs D has had some success in the past, but she’s already blaming the hopeless summer on a lack of winning produce. So perhaps this Saturday her two-year run as Onion Queen of Weston will finally come to an end.

And yours truly? Well, just read the introduction to the show programme. This year’s celebration of fruit-, flower- and vegetable-growing expertise will be opened, and the prizes presented, by none other than... Hugh Dixon, columnist with Ye Olde Bath Chronicle.

Ooh heck. Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame, but this is taking the mickey. It means getting up on the hind legs and making a speech in which one tries one’s best to sound knowledgeable and entertaining about subjects about which one knows next to nothing.

Including chilli-growing, if this year’s miserable crop of duds is anything to go by.

Quite seriously, though, please don’t let this rare public appearance by your humble columnist put you off going. As all good gardeners will tell you, every rose has its thorn.

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