This morning, the Leicestershire Master Gardeners visited the Melton Mowbray Memory Café, to run a hands-on gardening workshop for people living with Alzheimers and for their carers. This was one of a series of such visits around the county to memory cafes run by the Alzheimers Society and, as ever, was a joy to attend with much laughter, mess and reminiscence about gardening and food. Master Gardener Marian Curry and I arrived laden with compost and potted herbs and were warmly welcomed with tea and biscuits.
Early conversations about learning to grow mundane spuds and turnips during the war quickly moved on the joys of homemade fruit wines and slow gin! Very early in the visit the topic of the current crisis in supplies of fresh veg from Spain was raised and concerns expressed at the rising costs of fresh veg.
“Did you know, my local supermarket is limiting people to 3 lettuces a week?”
This led on beautifully to our first activity. I had brought along a well known brand of seeds for pea shoot salads, priced at £2.95 for 250g and compared these with a pack of dried marrowfat peas at 80p for 500g, which are perfect for home salad growing. We planted these in paper cups to grow on the windowsill at a cost of a few pence each. These will produce 3 or more crops of salad leaves, if the lower leaf joints are left to grow, and are happy on a sunny windowsill even in the depths of winter. A fist full of peas can produce as much salad as you might buy in bags for £3.00 or more (pre-Spanish crisis price!). They can be used in fresh salads, stirred into soups and stews or nibbled on as you pass by in the kitchen. This was of particular interest to one frustrated carer who has been trying to find ways to sneak fresh vegetables into her recalcitrant husband’s meals and, as a mum with similar concerns for my children’s 5 a day intake, we compared strategies.
“I learned to garden from my mother during the war, when my father was away. She did all the digging and everything until I was old enough and then she taught me to do the digging.”
The cheap and cheerful theme continued as we divided pots of supermarket ‘living herbs’ and potted them on for stronger windowsill growing and possible transplanting into the garden in the spring. A potted parsley or living lettuce salad can give you dozens of spindly plants that, when given space in their own pot or used to edge a flower bed, can produce vastly more greens than one person can eat, and look beautiful at the same time.
I learned from my granddad when I was a child. I could keep up with him because he’d lost a leg in the First World War. He planted onions on the top of the ground and I followed behind and re-planted them all underground because he’d got it wrong.
We passed the pots around the group, who chatted animatedly as they pinched and rubbed the leaves to release the aromas and had a nibble at each one. The session finished with a gardening crossword puzzle, set by Joanna, the group’s leader, which triggered much merriment at some of the answers that hinted at who would be nurturing their new salads:
Crossword question: what would you use to mow the lawn with?
Answer: the wife
By the end of the session, even the least enthusiastic members of the group were proudly carrying their ‘Give It A Grow’ bags home and talking about watering their new crops.
If you’d like our volunteers to come along and run a session like this for your Leicestershire group, get in touch with us by clicking here.
If you’d like to have a go at your own pea shoot salad, click here Growing Pea Shoots Sheet