Red means ready except when blue does

In September, there is still work to do on the garden, but the summer excitement has faded.  The first year, it was concrete and then mud, the second year there was grass and some lavendar bushes and some newly planted small trees and bushes.  This year there were still bare patches around the edges like unasked questions in the earth but there was also fruit.

In garden
TTT rampaging
Our garden is nothing spectacular, a brown and green urban pocket handkerchief.   But for the Ten-Ton-Toddler and Gentle Giant and I this year it was a place of unfolding mysteries, as TTT picked fruit and berries for the first time in her life.

TTT turned two in early summer and re-discovered the passion for wild strawberries that we’d observed the summer before in Finland. I had found a patch then near my uncle’s summer house, and tried my strangely fruit-detesting baby on them. She had gobbled them up. I love wild strawberries myself. I have childhood memories of staying with my mother’s friend Liisa as a teen and her having kept a patch for me to pick when I arrived. For a family with two small boys that must have been quite some strawberry sacrifice. So this year I had found a nice lady on ebay who sold bare rooted runners from her own plants. And of course endless picking of blueberries. I had low expectations – even though I knew my mother was growing wild strawberries in her garden in Devon I thought there was probably some magicry involved in that, the way my mother’s cinnamon buns always turn out better than mine. But no – they took to the soil and spread their leaves and leggy little runners and by midsummer we had clumps and clumps of aromatic soft little drops of concentrated strawberry.

Wild strawberries taste almost artificial at first, as though they are strawberry flavouring added to something else rather than the berry itself. And TTT adored them. If she was dawdling on the way home from nursery all I had to say was ‘shall we see if there are any strawberries’ and she’d nearly run home. ‘Dawbewys in my mouf’, she would announce when she had her little harvest of a couple of strawberries and perhaps a raspberry from my new canes. I tried to teach her that ‘red’ meant ‘ready’ but colours were still unworded to her, and sometimes I had to crouch on the ground to block her from a full body tackle of a strawberry plant covered in unripe mint-green little fruit. Then a month later the blueberries started to crop.

Blueberry in red autumn colours
Blueberry in autumn
They disappoint me a little – they are the pale American style blueberries, not the small, very slightly sharp but intense bilberries I pick in Finland. But TTT had no such qualms. The months had made a difference to her emotional development, and by the time the blueberries had ripened she had learnt about sharing. She would try desperately to save some blueberries for Daddy, her favourite person in the world. But she loved the blueberries so much or was so proud of having saved some for Daddy she was insistent that she needed to carry them. And then mostly the temptation was too strong or memory was too weak and the one blueberry saved for Daddy would end up in her mouf.

By the time the blueberries were well under way, the peaches were growing round and soft and fuzzy, blushing under the netting we had thrown over them to keep away the birds. The first one arrived after TTT was in bed and I confess, deprived of the garden’s fruit so far this year, I ate it, then she claimed the next ‘Sasha pitch’ the next day. The third one fell before I got to it, so Gentle Giant and I shared what the ants had not already received.  Then came the plums. Tragically, the beautifully laden lilac and gold flushed plums had been infested with moths, so only the latest ripening fruit were free of the unwelcome grubs. I muttered dark words of disappointment and swore to pheromone traps next year. TTT had mixed feelings. The first one she tried she announced was ‘not nice’ with a disappointed expression on her little face, but the second one received a ‘nice, this’ and disappeared quickly enough. We had pacified her with our first carrot after the plum disappointment. She took great pride in washing it, and then we called Mummu, who had given us the seeds. I could watch my daughter on the phone as we Facetimed, the feathery green fronds sticking out of the side of her mouth like Bugs Bunny. And by the time the tomatoes were ripening, TTT understood ‘red’ means ‘ready’ well enough, and she even understood that for the blueberries, reddish means not ready, that they must be blue. She knew that there were ‘no more dawbewys’ but there would be more ‘another time’. Fruit come in different colours and at different times, a mystery for her to absorb.


It is September now so the growth and ripening has slowed. We have a few autumn raspberries left to ripen but you can almost hear the pace of life in the gardening quietening down as the photosynthesising leaves wilt and brown and the stems weaken, tucking their energy back into their roots.

I will probably pick the remaining green tomatoes to make chutney soon, which will confuse and annoy her if she sees it, because she has learnt that you do not pick green tomatoes, and she does not like her newly acquired rules of life to be disrupted. Sanna does not use Mummy’s trowel because it is sharp, but equally, Mummy should not wear Daddy’s gardening clogs, even if her own ones are lost, because Daddy’s clogs are Daddy’s. She turns to me with an inquiring look before she picks anything in the garden because she knows there are rules and the main rule is waiting. She has tugged up feathery fronds in the hope of carrots, but the root is still tiny and white, not yet a carrot. Green or reddish blueberries are ‘not nice’.  She takes out her trowel and rakes at random pieces of ground sometimes, because this is part of the behaviour that belongs to being in the garden.

We will plant apples, blackberries and Arctic Brambles in November before we retreat to the house for mid-winter.  More for someone to discover..