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Quality or quantity

The "Dig for Victory" campaign during the 1940s saw people everywhere dig up their flower beds to make way for home-grown fruit and vegetables in order to stay healthy when imports of food were almost non-existent. The 50s brought the rise of the flower bed again and neighbours became fiercely competitive with each other for the best roses in the road. Growing vegetables was still popular, but reduced in quantity as supplies began to improve.

The 80s brought Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners World, with his “kitchen garden”, growing vegetables in amongst the ornamental plants - a new twist on the traditional French potager, where the garden provided flowers for the house as well as food for the table. Then in the 90s smaller gardens, limitless imported vegetables from all over the world all year round and less general interest in gardening saw the demise of growing very much at all.

Having a holiday away on an island brings it home to you that we've lost something. When imports are expensive, people make the most of what they can produce themselves to keep the cost of living down. While some locals definitely make money from the tourists, many still live on a very basic income and yet they are both happy and healthy. You have to wonder whether they are the ones who have it right. What they can't eat immediately, they preserve for the months when there is less around - again, something we no longer seem to do.

The trouble with grow-your-own enthusiasts is that they make it all sound so daunting and anyone who has tried to grow much knows that it can be very hit and miss depending on the weather. So don't go all-in for year-round production, start with a pot of something to supplement, not replace, what you buy in summer and enjoy having fresh produce at least some of the time. A few fresh, crunchy mangetout or peas added to a simple pasta meal can make all the difference.

So have a think and see whether you could improve your own diet by growing vegetables yourself. Don't start with anything the slugs will eat before you can: lettuce is far too cheap to buy to worry about growing your own. It's a thankless task to pick something, only to find you throw away half of it due to it being tough, bitter or savaged by garden creatures.

Looking after the plants is addictive, because you start to care about them. Before you know it, you'll be checking on them when you get home, watering at dawn and even talking to them to encourage them. No, it's not madness - or if it is, it's a kind that gets you out of your chair, off your iPad and outside where you will get some exercise. You might even start to enjoy it!

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This story was published on: 30/06/2018

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