The runner bean

Runner beans

Well I guess that’s the start of winter then – we’ve taken down the runner beans!  They have been leaning at a precarious angle since we had all the strong winds, but now we’ve had the first frosts it’s time for them to be dismantled.

Last week we assisted my parents to dismantle their beans.  “I don’t know whether or not we’ll be growing beans next year”.  Really?  No beans?  This is the home I grew up in, where runner beans have been part of the yearly cycle for as long as I can remember.  Not grow runner beans?  Well, yes, I guess we have to face reality:  failing strength can mean accepting we can no longer do the things we used to do.  But bean-growing is the last remnant of a once-productive fruit and vegetable garden.  Well, I suppose there’s still the apple tree that I grew from a pip when I was about seven years old.  It had a bumper crop this year.

We love growing vegetables in our own garden, too.  Runner bean crops vary.  One year we tried climbing French beans instead, but there’s always a wigwam of poles; it wouldn’t seem right without.

I was fascinated, though, to learn from Monty Don’s series The Secret History of the British Garden, that runner beans were not to be found in a 17th century British vegetable garden.  Originating from Central America, runner beans were not grown for culinary purposes until the 18th century.  Funny to think that those ancestors who currently reside at the top of my various family trees probably knew nothing of runner beans!  Though Monty may be looking at the gardens of some rather grand houses, it gives one a fascinating glimpse into this area of social history and perhaps a clue as to what our ancestors did grow in their vegetable plots.  Because, even if they worked long hours as agricultural labourers for the local landowner, they undoubtedly grew their own vegetables, not mention keeping chickens and possibly a share in a pig too.

There may not be much room for a pig in our garden, but there’s room for beans.  Even our friend Elsie, who turns 100 today, still grows a few runner beans in a small parcel of earth.

Give up growing beans?  I hope not!

Garden in Croydon, possibly with my great grandmother Elizabeth George
Probably the same garden in Croydon with my great grandfather David George
Mitchell; West Grinstread
My grandmother, Emily Mitchell, in her family garden in West Grinstead, Sussex

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