Raising ’em Right

container plantingYou fed 'em, you loved 'em, you raised 'em right, and now they're about to leave you! We're not talking plants here, folks, we're talking kids! Because, in just another few weeks, we'll be saying goodbye to the tertiary-level members of our families as they head back to uni, polytech, art school, or that grim little flat they're holing up in while they finish their apprenticeship. But their leaving home is no reason to stop providing them with good garden-given nourishment. My boy never went short of home-grown veggies when he was living in the city, even though he was too far away for us to send him a box of produce each week. Instead, thanks to his mother's obsession with fresh veggies, he was able to keep up the old vitamin C and antioxidant intake, even when, as a student, he couldn't afford oranges. This is how we managed it.

Come early in the new year, I dug out a few plastic tubs from under the house (rumpty old things because I knew jolly well I'd never see them again!), nabbed some deep polystyrene boxes from a big bin, and even came up with some old wooden apple crates that had just a few more months of life left in them. I filled them with compost and a good sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer (I usually like to go organic but I had the distinct feeling that no-one in a student flat was going to be applying liquid manure to any of these gardens unless it was ... well, let's not go there!).

In one container, I planted anything I could find that I knew was hardy (the sorts of things that refuse to die even when they don't get watered). That included cuttings of herbs such as oregano and thyme, little clumps of garlic chives and perennial onions, and seedlings of parsley. A couple of weeks later, I filled another box with veggies I knew would mature in the first month of 'varsity – the sort of stuff that goes well with that student staple, pasta: silver beet, celery, and rocket. About two weeks before Max was due to migrate to the city, I planted out a couple of boxes with hardy lettuces (Canasta from King's Seeds is my absolute all-time favourite – it's so robust I reckon it'll still be going strong even after a nuclear war).

Then, come the end of Feb, along with the inevitable mattress, duvet, pots, pans, writing desk, bicycle, mountain-climbing equipment, tent, and more pieces of cutlery than we could spare from the kitchen drawer, I loaded the containers of veggies onto the trailer and we all headed off to the city and ... the flat (we won't go there either!).

We heard as much from Max as any parent of a young adult hears from their offspring, but I'd have to say that our conversations always included references to the container veggie gardens. Whether it was a report of admiring comments from a girlfriend, a cordonbleu meal made possible by the inclusion of a scattering of fresh rocket, or a neighbour who'd called to ask for a few springs of parsley, the gardens were right up there! But, best of all, was the call that came in mid-August, just when Dunedin is at its bleakest and those infamous uninsulated north-city flats are at their most depressing. It was from our boy, reporting that something pink and incredibly scented was flowering between a scattering of broad beans his flatmate had sown in one of the veggie boxes at the back door.

"Ah," I said, at the same time relishing the thought that someone in the flat had taken over the 'garden', "that'll be the hyacinth. I tucked a few spring bulbs in the veggie boxes in when I was filling them back in January."

"Did you?" he asked. "That was very clever."

"We'll," I said, "veggies are good for the stomach, but it's flowers you need to feed the soul!"

Whether it's a tertiary-level young-adult you have in your life, an aging mother or grandmother, or a neighbour who can't manage the tasks they once could, consider making time to create a potted veggie garden for them. These little gifts aren't just practical, they're an on-going joy – and source of conversation. And while you're planting out the silver beet seedlings, don't forget to tuck in a surprise spring bulb or two.

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