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Yardening: turning my tiny concrete wasteland into a mini field of dreams

Inspired by Eamon Ryan's rousing speech, Esther Moore O'Donohue stocked up on seeds and threw herself into 'yardening'

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Esther Moore O'Donohue

Esther Moore O'Donohue

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Esther Moore O'Donohue

Every morning, like an urban Bull McCabe, I survey my land from the kitchen window as my porridge blips around in the microwave.

My field is a 6ft x 4ft concrete yard which, up until recently, was home to two dead lavender plants, a broken mop and a bag of sand. It was far from the rose-filled city oasis I had envisioned when I moved in 18 months ago. Still, there's nothing like a life-threatening pandemic to focus the mind.

With Eamon Ryan's 'I have a dream of baby gem on every south-facing window' speech playing on a loop in my head, I decided to try to bring some life to my grey 'yarden'.

While I am a prolific purchaser of houseplants from the centre aisles of supermarkets, prior to lockdown, I'd never grown anything from scratch. My track record in keeping already fully grown things alive is good. The only exception to my indoor green fingers has been basil plants, but not even Harry Potter could keep one of those going. When it came to 'yardening', however, I was a novice and had no idea where to begin.

Unable to concentrate enough to read anything since 'the emergency' began, the fount of horticultural knowledge for me was YouTube. I scrolled past videos with titles like 'Seeds in the City' and 'Tiny Gardens for Big Dummies'. They showed perfect outdoor 'spaces' that were too put-together for my taste and skill level.

I wanted a lo-fi, low-fuss approach. I settled on one whose thumbnail photo was a man holding up yoghurt pots of seedlings. This was more my speed. His garden shed was not a carefully curated set of terracotta pots, but a mish-mash of old tin cans and assorted bits. It wasn't an aesthetic I wanted to replicate 100pc, but he was so chilled out I hoped 'yardening' would have the same effect on me.

Armed with scant knowledge and an unwarranted confidence in my 'yardening' prowess, all I needed were the raw materials and I could get to work. A few days later my bounty arrived and I was the owner of the finest seeds money could buy from an online garden centre in Laois.

I wasted no time settling my new lodgers in, lovingly plopping them into plastic pots with the help of my new dibber (basically a stick you make holes in the soil with). I cleared the kitchen window and made name tags for them: 'Peas-us Christ' (it was approaching Easter), 'Lettuce Be Friends' and simply, 'Tomatoes' because I couldn't think of a name for them. I popped their lids on and waited for nature to take its course.

For the first week, my housemates weren't up to much. Every time I'd lift their plastic domes and peek in, I hoped to see a hint of green break through but they played it cool. After about ten days, they finally started to make themselves known. I had done nothing but spritz them daily with an old water bottle but I felt like Alan Titchmarsh. The peas and lettuce were shooting up but the tomatoes were slower off the block. To encourage them, I'd hold them up to the kitchen window every few days and whisper in their leaves, "Some day, all that concrete will be yours".

I found looking after my leafy pals so rewarding that I wanted to share my new hobby with others. I slid into friends' DMs, work Google Docs and WhatsApp groups, "How are y'sorted for the tomatoes? Need any onion sets? How about a nice bit of lettuce seed?" Soon I was sending tiny packages to Rathmines, Kilmainham, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook. My reputation was beginning to 'pro-seed' me.

My brother texted asking if I'd consider doing a socially distanced swap with a friend of his. His pal had heard I had some pea seeds going and wanted to know if a deal could go down. My kitchen window was already rammed but when I heard there were sunflowers on offer, well, only a fool would say no. "Tell him I'll give him five peas, six lettuce and four onion sets." It seemed more than fair.

When my aunt lamented in the family WhatsApp group that she was overrun with baby cauliflower, I had to draw the line. Plant-pot real estate in the 'yarden' was limited. No one wants to turn down an infant cauli, but I had to be firm.

As I was doing my bit to get lettuce leaves on every south-facing window in Dublin a la Eamon Luther King, my seedlings continued to thrive, like Harry and Meghan in LA. It wasn't long before the peas were getting too big for their plastic boots, and it was time for them to move outside to my concrete non-jungle.

The latest view from the kitchen is not yet the bijou Botanic Yarden vision I had but it's infinitely better than the drab space it was. What would make my concrete field of dreams complete right now is a few humans wedged in. But, like the tomatoes still lounging about on my kitchen window, it's just going to take a little more time for that dream to come true.

And when it does, it'll be blooming great.

Sunday Independent