The L’oreal Guide to Good Gardening

swedeAnyone who knows me will tell you that, when it comes to vegetable gardening, I am one hundred percent focused – some might say obsessively so! We never, for instance, run out of carrots. My lettuces are always hearting just as the supermarket prices for them soar. I have spring onions ready to eat when everyone else is just getting their seed in the ground, and enough silver beet to keep ourselves, our chooks, and the entire neighbourhood scurvy-free even in the depths of a freezing South Otago winter.

However, what very few people know is that, each year amongst all that toil and harvest, I also allow myself one completely frivolous and totally self-centred garden treat – just one mind you! I give myself permission to select and grow one vegetable that does necessarily produce anything other than anticipation, excitement, and sheer fun.

One year, for instance, after seeing a gorgeous dish of braised chicons (the forced, blanched young leaves of witloof chicory) in a glossy Cuisine magazine, I spent absolutely hours sourcing the seed, raising the plants, digging them up at the end of summer, layering them in sand for several weeks, and then planting them in a bucket of fine potting mix – all to raise five small lemony-leafed chicons which I then used to replicate the recipe. Oh, the taste! It was divine!

Another year, after a visit to Greece, I grew a long row of dandelions which we harvested, painstakingly threaded onto cotton, and strung up across our ceiling to dry. In winter, we boiled them up, doused them in olive oil and lemon juice, and called them agria-horta (wild greens) which was what we had enjoyed so much in Greece a few months earlier.

I still remember the chicory root I grew, dried in the oven, and ground into a coffee substitute (ugh – who could ever forget it!). And then there was the purple tomato I grew upside down in a bucket that hung from the roof of the glasshouse and which I needed a step-ladder to reach each time I watered it!

This year, despite there always being a stall just along the road selling swedes for $1.50 each, I decided to grow my own for the sheer fun of it. I think I wanted to prove that, even though I wasn't a farmer, I could still come up with the goods. Now I'm just waiting for the first frost to draw down the sugars so I can harvest my six treasures and mash them with black pepper and butter.

The point I'm making, of course, is that if you're to keep at it, day in and day out, gardening has to involve an element of fun. Most of the time, it does, but it's also darned hard work and, let's face it, providing your family with the basics such as good old carrots, leeks, spuds, and cabbages, can become just the teeniest bit tedious. Which is why you must treat yourself – whether it's by selecting a wild and wacky new vegetable to glow, a packet of pretty flower seed to sow, or a bunch of spring bulbs to plant in a shiny new tub.

Whatever you decide to do, tell yourself you're allowed to. So off you go to the garden centre, right now, and choose something that is just for you – the gardener of the house. Then take it home and spend some completely frivolous hours doing with it what you will. You deserve that "me" time in your own garden and, after all, "you know you're worth it!"

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