Around four years ago I commented to Mark (my Real Life Hero) that I wished we could grow something to cover the back of the motorcycle shed that stands across the patio outside the kitchen window. I wanted something prettier to look at, but I was really only musing aloud, never thought we could actually do it. That’s because the bit of land that was available was very narrow, maybe 2 inches wide between the shed and the patio. It seemed like it would be a fairly hopeless task. Mark suggested I try growing grapevines, and I laughed. Rather a lot, I must admit.
The idea of me growing vines successfully, in Yorkshire, in a narrow bit of land between two lumps of concrete, sounded ludicrous. Mark proceeded to read me various bits of information about how little earth they needed to grow in, how far they could sink their roots, and how hardy they were. When he said that it triggered something else at the back my mind – a memory from a novel that made me take the idea seriously. (More on that in a moment...)
Mark found an online retailer where you could order a pack of 6 fledgling vines for home delivery. That baffled me. Plants, in a parcel? I shrugged, I was far from convinced. Mark ordered them. These sad little things arrived at the end of March, when we were supposed to be able to plant them out if the frost had gone. I can only describe it as 6 x 2 inch matchsticks that looked dead in a bit of earth in a plastic bag. But what do I know?! Then the winter decided to last longer, right into May, and I had to plant the sticks into a pot of earth in the kitchen window. I thought they would be gonners, really. As it turned out we did lose three before they even went out in the garden. Three of them sprouted a teeny little bit and I began to get hopeful. I planted the survivors out in the world when the weather warmed up enough. I looked at the overcast skies and the blustery clouds, put my collar up against the wind and thought, “poor little buggers, chances are they’ll be gonners soon too.” Did I tell you I'm not green-fingered at all? I've grown to live with this rather sad situation, as you may have guessed.
The first year was depressing, and I fretted over the three short spindly plants trying to grow up the shed. They looked very forlorn and fragile whenever the wind blew, and as soon as they wavered closer to the bottom of the trellis, I'd go out and tuck them in under it, trying to guide them. When they died down over the winter, I never thought they’d flare into life again, but the second year was amazing! The vines shot up and over the course of the summer they weaved together, filled the trellises and tried to climb over the shed roof. I had a lovely leafy network to view from the kitchen window, and when sitting on the patio. I was happy! (You can see in the photo how narrow the bed was!)
They were supposed to be a mixture of three white vines and three red vines, and we had no clue which three had survived. I still didn’t believe that they would ever grow grapes. Last summer Mark reminded me that it was now their third summer and that's when they were supposed to produce grapes. "Pah," I said, I thought we were lucky to even have leaves. Imagine my surprise when one morning I looked out and saw a tiny little bunch of green grapes. “The white vines survived!” I informed Mark excitedly while he was at work.
There was much proud admiration of our little bunch of grapes – a bunch so tough that not even the hungriest of birds tried to eat them, even through the dark days of winter. :o) Imagine my surprise when about two weeks later they turned red! “The red vines survived!” I informed Mark excitedly while he was at work.
We’re now into the fourth summer, proud, amazed, and wondering if the other two vines will produce grapes and what colours the tough little grapes will be.
And what was the thing that convinced me to try to grow a vine in a narrow bit of stony soil squished between a patio and the concrete base of a shed? It was the closing page of Emma Holly’s novel BEYOND INNOCENCE. At the end of the story there is a narrative about growing vines, and it stuck in my mind because it was such a beautiful parallel to the relationships in the story:
“the interesting thing about grapes…is that they thrive on struggle…only through hardship can you make a true grand vin.”
We’re not looking to make a grand vin, but we’re very happy to have successfully grown a rather grand vine. Isn't it amazing how books can influence our lives, often in the most unexpected ways? Thanks to Emma Holly and her characters for spurring me into giving it a try! I can, without reserve, recommend growing your own vines. (If I can do it, anyone can.)