Of Courgettes and Plantie Croos

We seem to be having an unusually high number of summer gales this year.  Many beeches are still showing branches with withered brown leaves courtesy of May’s gale which struck them when they were still at that tender, fresh light green stage.  My courgette plant received a damn good thrashing from June’s gale and had just perked up from that when July’s gale shredded and pummelled off half its leaves.  I thought my south-facing terrace was a good place for it, receiving the sun most of the day, but clearly it is too exposed.

Scratching my head for a solution took me back in memory to my otter years in the late ‘70s on the island of Fetlar in the Shetlands.  Fetlar has fertile, base-rich soil courtesy of the underlying serpentine rock.  However it is also exceedingly windy and has virtually no trees, so the few vegetables that were grown (Shetlanders have the traditional Scottish disdain for eating anything green) had to be reared in little circular drystone enclosures known as ‘plantie croos’.  These kept the sheep off as well as the wind out, although fishing net needed to be stretched over the top to reduce the risk of fulmars getting trapped and trampling the crop.  The village shop was run by an English couple, Nicky and Laura, who managed to grow a good variety of vegetables and herbs in their plantie croo.  One day I begged a bunch of parsley from Laura to go with a fine sea trout I had caught in the bay the night before (I can still see it flashing silver in the moonlight as it leapt while I played it).

As I was walking back to my cottage I met one of the neighbours, Thomas John, who looked at the parsley and asked, ‘Is that the stuff Laura grows? Tell me, how do you cook it? Do you boil it?’

‘No, you eat it raw’, I said.

‘Raw!’ he exclaimed, ‘After all the cats and dogs been pissin’ on it!’

Well my parsley has survived the wind and I hope I can find a more sheltered spot in my Northumbrian garden for the courgette without going to the trouble of constructing a plantie croo, preferably before August’s gale strikes!

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