A wet West Country Weekend might, on the face of it, have promised little in the way of gardening opportunities, but Sunday was Potato Day, the Horticultural Hajj for the gardeners of Cary. It is that time of the year when the green fingered pilgrims make their way through the wind and rain to the car park at Caryford Hall, before entering the door to the Holy of Holies: the rectangular table of seed potatoes. Once inside, the devotees of the tuber huddle and queue around the hallowed trugs.
And so we stood there in line, wicker baskets on arms, brown paper bags and crayons in hand, ready to pick the choicest chitters. We shuffled along, hardly daring to look ahead in case there were not enough King Edwards or Belle de Fontenay to go round. We were worried that, although the opening time was advertised as 10.30, it was clear that some early worshippers had stolen a march on the rest of the gardening fraternity, leaving with bags bulging as we arrived shortly after the half past. Sadly there were no B de F’s so we had to hang on for Swift instead as our First Early. The thought of trying to go back up the line against the slow-moving mass of potato fans was not one I wished to contemplate. (In other Hajj’s there have been stampedes and mass fatalities caused by less important issues).
Of course there are other subtle differences between this pilgrimage and the Hajj which kicks off annually in Mecca. In this particular ceremony there is a differing direction of prayer (clockwise instead of counter-clockwise), and while there is no need for the pilgrims to run back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, there is a fair amount of running between car and hall door in the pouring rain. Disciples do not need to drink from the Zamzam Well, but teas, coffees and light refreshments were on sale in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care. The equivalent of standing vigil on the plains of Mount Arafat will come later when the potatoes are chitting – as the green-fingered check them each day or week to see those shoots growing in their little eff boxes, while spending a night in the plain of Muzalifa and throwing symbolic stones at the Devil will be mirrored in the actions of gardeners throwing projectiles at the neighbours’ cats or dogs to discourage them from doing their own digging and fertilising in the newly dug veg patch.