The last time I posted here, it turns out, was over a year ago. I had plans. The garden might have been dormant and overgrown for a while, but I had definite plans. Now the children had reached the grand age of four months, I would have the time to get myself outside, finally finish off sorting out the back bed, plant things properly, spend time in the garden, spend time tending to and living in the garden.
Yes. So, of course, that didn’t happen. And the bramble bush that had rooted itself in one corner of the back bed grew, grew and grew, trying to colonise the sunny side of our tiny plot.
My parents last moved house when I was four years old. In the two or three months between my parents moving house, and my grandfather dying suddenly, I remember him giving my parents a bramble bush – or rather, a bramble cutting, rooted in a blue plastic bucket he had clearly cadged from the builders’ yard round the corner from his house: it was the sort of thin plastic bucket you get ready-mixed plaster and suchlike in. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember the sentiment. Keep it in the bucket, he said. Plant the bucket, make sure it stays in the bucket, and you’ll be fine.
It did not, of course, stay in the bucket; my parents evidently were not watchful enough to look out for runners coming sideways over its flimsy plastic edge. By the time I was ready to leave primary school, most of the garden – a quite large garden, I should add, much larger than ours now – was taken over by one large bramble bush, taller than me, taller than my parents, tough, thorny, and impenetrable. Every summer my mother would pick the brambles from it, and make jam. I have a very clear memory of the last summer this happened – at a rough guess, I would have been about 12 or so. We spent a long, hot afternoon picking every ripe bramble we could reach, eating the odd one or two, before dumping the whole lot in the kitchen sink to be washed. My mother filled the bowl full of brambles with water to soak them, and three or four tiny maggoty wormy things crawled out of the centre of each fruit.
Having spent a few hours eating what turned out to be maggot-infested brambles, my mother decided at that point that the bramble bush had had its day lording it over the otherwise barren wasteland that was their back garden. Somehow she persuaded me that I ought to chop the thing down, so I spent a couple of days of my summer holiday gnawing away at it with secateurs and, for the thicker stems, a junior hacksaw. After more stuck thorns than I could count – we didn’t have anything resembling gardening gloves in the house – the enormous bush, taller than any of us, had been replaced by a slightly more compact pile of canes and stems and branches, still taller than any of us. My dad hired in a wood-chipper, and we spent a fun evening feeding the remains of the bramble bush into it, until nothing likely to root itself was left. The roots were left in the ground (I had sawn all the stems off just above ground level, and my dad certainly wasn’t going to go out there and dig them up), and after a few years’ recuperation they did find the energy to send up the odd stem here and there once more again, but the bramble bush’s days of dominating the garden were over and gone.
So, when I realised our garden was becoming at risk of being overrun, I was in two minds. On the one hand: happy memories of picking and eating them. On the other, I was always aware in the back of my mind that there’s a very real risk here. If I don’t do anything about it, in a year or two, we will barely be able to leave the back door.
We don’t really want that to happen: for one thing, we want the children to be able to run around in the garden and use some energy up. So, after the fruits have been gathered in, it is going to get the chop, although I’m not going to go to the extreme of hiring a wood-chipper to give it the final coup de grace. And tonight we collected our first bowlful.
Do they count as foraged if they’re wild things in your own garden? The last time I ate foraged brambles, they were from a wet and misty island in the Bristol Channel, and they tasted of almost entirely nothing at all, soggy cotton wool with a vague hint of fruit to them. These, on the other hand, are the exact opposite, little balls of dense, concentrated tartness, nothing at all like a bramble from the shops. Far too tart to give to the children raw, despite how much they love the shop-bought ones. Hopefully we’ll be able to turn them into a compote of some kind. Hopefully, too, there aren’t many maggots inside.