What was Marvin Gaye on about, eh? I have no idea, but there's no need to have such a downer on a big onion, Marv!
Sorry for the silly start to this post: this song's been my earworm companion for a while and I am hoping this blogpost will help to extract it.
Anyway, back to this particular onion. I had real struggles on my old allotment with onion white rot, but since I moved my veg growing operation to raised beds in my back garden, overwintered onions go like a dream (they like the good drainage, I think - except where they were planted in ground containing too much fertiliser, which resulted in some bull-necked onions - a lesson learned for the next planting come autumn).
In the self-sufficiency stakes, my fruit and veg harvests are a drop in the domestic ocean: they do taste good, and save some food miles, it's true, but it's the physical and mental benefits of gardening that I treasure.
I don't think it's an overexaggeration to say that the bouts of gardening time I manage to snatch inbetween work and childcare are absolutely vital to my mental and physical health.
It doesn't really matter if I am growing food, like the overwintered onion, or growing verbascums from seed like these 'Snow Maiden'*. What is it that makes gardening so pleasurable? At their most negative, many of the tasks I enjoy (sowing seed, watering, pruning and taking cuttings, for instance) could, as Anne Wareham has pointed out in her book The Bad Tempered Gardener, be described as "outside housework". So why doesn't cleaning the bathroom give me such deep joy?
With two small kids, gardening time is stolen time: time when I can do things my way, have time to think and nurture something that won't answer back or throw porridge at me. Like cleaning or washing up, gardening is cyclical and routine-forming, but every year is different and there is always more to learn: whereas the washing up is always just the washing up. Perhaps if I was miraculously able to spend five days a week in my garden, it would start to pall, but I don't think so. I think I'd get even more addicted. It doesn't help that my job means I spend my working day thinking, reading and writing about my hobby, too.
My latest love is verbascums - so easy to raise from seed, I have discovered, which means lots and lots of plants for not a lot of money. And they're a bit of a revelation in the garden. They like my dry, sunny border and have made vertical vapour trails of blooms that gave some much-needed height to the whole thing. I am also growing the delightfully furry V. bombyciferum 'Silver Lining' (yellow flowers, a bit like a giant lambs' ears before the flower spike heads skyward) for my gravel garden. And finally, I got plug plants of the orange-flowered 'Clementine' from T&M, which so far have been rather weedy in comparison, although I like the dusty orange of the flowers - the benefits of growing from seed yourself are that plants don't get so much mollycoddling at the start, and so the shock of moving from pot to open soil is not so great.
Fortunately, the 'Snow Maiden' are also perfectly positioned to draw attention away from the disaster of what are meant to be two obelisks full of sweet peas. More like a couple of straggly stems and two flowers, right now. Compare this to last year's glorious sweet peas they're an embarrassment. But, like I said, every year's different. This year is the year of the verbascum. And not just big onions, but alliums of all kinds. More of which, another time.