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Notes from a Singer’s Greenhouse

I’ve got huge admiration for those performers who are re-inventing performance in the ether. But I discovered (when offered the opportunity by the wonderful Jacob Heringman) that I just can’t do it: I can’t perform in my living room. It’s not the lack of a physical  audience (I’ve spent years of my life recording to an audience of one) – it’s the absence of fellow musicians. It was quite a shock to discover that the music itself might be less important than sharing it with like-minded people in the same physical space. But it’s not all bad news: in a strange way I’m enjoying this global performance of Cage’s 4’33” that we’re all perforce involved in, and my main contribution is the sound of plants growing.

Last autumn I wrote a blog post about my greenhouse, constructed  over several months between gigs  using windows that we’d recently replaced. It was finished in time to grow cucumbers and tomatoes which I’d bought as seedlings. I’d already decided to grow almost everything from seed this year, and suddenly having a lot of time on my hands has meant that I can do it properly (though I should say that I know nothing about gardening, greenhouses or seeds, so it’s all a bit of an experiment).

We’re lucky to have five south-facing windowsills (with newly double-glazed glass) and that’s where most things start at the moment.  These are tomatoes and aubergines and a courgette growing in our sitting room last week:

Our bedroom has two windows. Here are shiso (L) and more tomatoes with a Padron pepper (R):

The other window had another tiny tomato, more shiso, courgettes and a tray of gherkins:

In the attic we have a dormer which conveniently holds two seed trays, here  bell peppers and Bonariensis:

In the kitchen we have a deep recessed window with a radiator beneath, so we can bring on anything that needs heat. These are Padron peppers and aubergines with three tiny cosmos that I pricked out too early.


The greenhouse itself  (half greenhouse really) is a riot of seedlings, mostly annuals: pot marigolds, nasturtiums, echinacea and several dozen cosmos and nicotiana, not to mention dill, chives, basil and more shiso.

And of course there’s the garden, where much of what survives my pricking out and potting on should end up. We have an ancient apple tree, dating back maybe a couple of hundred years or so when the land our house was built on was an orchard. After years of frustration we’ve just given up trying to grow a lawn beneath it, and replacing our efforts with paving has meant we can extend our little veg patch to meet it. It’s mostly empty at the moment apart from some fruit along the back wall (an Asian blueberry, Japanese wineberry,  some raspberries and a gooseberry, and a row of early broad beans and peas). And there’s a row of spuds in buckets along the outside of the greenhouse. Oh, and there are the Jerusalem artichokes which might one day shield the compost heap.  So far, everything I’ve put in a seed tray has miraculously germinated a week or so later. The next challenge is to wait for the last frost before planting out. It’s a bit of a change from singing, which is over as soon as it’s begun; the life of even the tiniest plant is positively Wagnerian in comparison.



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