Broad bean a metaphor for life: Some things are best left alone

This was the week of the resurrection of the broad bean seedling.

After quite a hectic last weekend in which I returned to Q+A after several months away, I came home to Poukawa and spent a couple of idle days lolling about the place reading. But on Wednesday I sprang into action and got round to planting a few of the wooden olive bins we have lying round. These are normally used to carry olives to the press after the harvest. This year, we lined four of them and filled them with beautiful, friable soil and compost I came back from town armed to the teeth with tomatoes and iceberg lettuce seedlings to plant out. Yes, the hell with all those flash lettuces. We've gone back to iceberg. And Mum's condensed milk dressing. Nothing like it.

I also bought broad bean plants. The broad bean has fallen out of fashion, I suppose one could say. It's very rare to meet anyone who licks their lips at the thought of broad beans. I love broad beans. My mother loved her broad beans and would never have contemplated a Christmas dinner without broad beans. If you have the patience to peel each bean, the broad bean is one of the sweetest most tender vegetables in the world.


The tomatoes planted out easily. The broad beans, I discovered, were root bound in their little tub. Separating the plants was tough. In a couple of cases I was left with barely any roots, just the old bean seed itself with the seedling protruding bravely from it. I watered them in and the garden looked like a great old mud pie.

When I came back about an hour later to examine with pride my great work of planting I was greeted by the sight of one of the broad beans tumbled over catastrophically and looking for all the world to be out for the count. I know plants can wilt on replanting but this broad bean seedling looked as if it had photosynthesised its last bit of chlorophyll, given up the ghost and fallen over dead. I imagined the Eiffel Tower fallen over on its side.

I sought the advice of Nigel, our farm manager, who now, five years on, has forgiven my calling the goat I bought in Yemen by his name. Nigel is a very good vegetable man. Nigel counselled patience. My own instinct was not to prevaricate and replace the plant straight away but Nigel's counsel won the day.

My wife came home. She'd been with our niece Natalie to the Chocolate Factory, just outside Napier. Deborah hadn't been there before. She assumed that anything called the Chocolate Factory would be heaven for an 11-year-old. Instead, the place was full of very large women scoffing vast slices of chocolate cake. There was nothing on the menu for kids. How stupid, we both thought. What a silly way to run a chocolate business.

Anyway, I showed Deborah what I thought was the fatally wounded bean which, by then, I was assuming I'd snapped it at the base when I planted it.

Just before sunset, however, I walked over to the bins for a final inspection. I couldn't be sure, maybe I was imagining it, but I could swear that there had been a little straightening of the trunk. The top of the seedling seemed to have risen ever so slightly from the ground. What could one do but hope for the best?

Next morning, I went immediately to inspect and could not believe the sight that greeted me. Standing up proud and tall, the tallest of them all, was the sick broad bean, full of life and health. The little bean was safe. And to think, my own impatience might have destroyed its life. It is true of all gardening that you need patience. And I was reminded again that there is very little in the world more satisfying than gardening.

I told the editor of this august journal that I was planning to write about the resurrection of the broad bean. He seemed delighted and said, "We must save the broad bean." He spoke of recently having dined in Melbourne on a delicious old Cretan dish of artichokes and broad beans. You can Google the recipe easily. It requires a cup of extra virgin olive oil, I notice, which is a very fine thing.

Indeed, the broad bean has a Mediterranean/North African origin and there are remains of the broad bean in sites in Israel dating back to the Bronze Age. Interesting, the Bronze Age. All they had was copper and tin and they worked out how to make a very hard metal called bronze. This lasted 1500 years. That's a long time filling bronze pots and cutting trees down with bronze axes.

The Romans used to give the gladiators a feed of barley and broad beans before they headed into battle. The broad bean is full of goodness and helps the body manufacture dopamine, the dope in your head that helps control your moods. So the little broad bean saved itself, proof that sometimes in life, if you leave things alone they sort things out themselves.