The heat continued – this was not just a “nice spell” but real sweltering heat over the Fen, pressing down and not moving. We’d seen nothing like this for decades, maybe since the fabled summer of ’76. No rain either – it was at least seven weeks since the last, although this was less unusual in these parts. My first spring on the allotment, seven or eight years ago, had a very localised drought of two months plus. I remember standing there one evening, looking at black clouds and rainfall in all four directions, but not a drop falling towards my thirsty vegetables.
Despite the lack of rain, things were growing apace on the allotment. Sweetcorn was ripening, pumpkins and courgettes swelling. You don’t have to send your roots down far to find the water out here in the Fenlands. As I have said before, my allotment is below sea level. Best enjoy it before it disappears forever under the meltwater of the shrinking ice-caps.
And, of course, my dahlias. All are up now – the stayers, a lovely pale yellow dwarf variety, who have survived into their second year, the enormous spiny crimson ones that have grown from tubers and a surprisingly delicate white, which I have grown this year from seed.
But, to my chagrin, the most glamorous and exotic of all the dahlias on my patch is the shocking pink floozy that has grown through the fence from my neighbour. I send weeds and nettles into his allotment, and he sends back this brazen bloom.
The thrill of discovery can happen closer to home. A year or so ago I planted an apricot in the alley out the back, against a south facing wall that captures the sun and is almost entirely free of wind. This year I whitewashed the wall – partly to cover the graffiti, but also to reflect the heat of the sun back onto the tree – and began to train the apricot against it. It loved it, and by March it was covered in the most beautiful blossom.
But my excitement at the prospect of myriad apricots growing fat on my tree was soon dashed when the snow came back and killed off all the blossom. The disappointment was vindicated by the thick green leaves that began to appear, with nary a fruit in sight. Never mind – the tree was growing strong and fast, and doing as it was told as it followed the wires I set out for it. A few weeks ago I had to hack it back even – the alley was becoming impassable.
And, oh! Lookee here, treasure! Nestled in the leaves, warm, snug and solitary against the sunbathed wall, was the most golden and wonderful of all apricots. Soft to the touch, it glowed in my hand. I let it ripen for a week or so before the grand harvest. It was as sweet as it was golden – and if that turns out to be the only apricot I ever grow, the whole exercise will have been worth it. Because when, in forty years time, people talk of the fabled hot summer of ’18, I’ll remember the taste of the golden fruit that reveled in the heat of that glorious summer.