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The royals emerge

Ah, now things are beginning to get serious. The Duke of York has been retrieved from under the Macleods' spare bed. King Edward (presumably) remains under the springs for the time being. For all I know, so do Nadine, Desiree, and Cara. But the Duke has his marching orders, make no mistake.

Before I am deluged with letters accusing this already earthy column of sinking to new depths, I had better explain (I know not everyone is acquainted with the vegetables grown in Britain) that the Duke of York, and all the rest, are potatoes.

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The trouble is that the admirably prompt John Macleod is rather ahead of the season with his Duke of Yorks. I've mentioned, in passing, to several other plotters and to the chap that runs Daggs (the garden shop in the city) that one plotholder has already planted his "first early" potatoes.

To a man, their heads - more in sorrow than in anger - have oscillated sideways in a sage and not-very-optimistic fashion. "Much too soon," they tut and mutter.

But as John pointed out while I watched him manure his trench, his Duke of Yorks have sprouted (or "chitted," to use the lingo) to the beyond-it point. The shoots are as long and slender as small grass snakes, so they can't possibly be left unplanted any longer. Puzzlingly, none of John's other under-the-bed potatoes have done this.

The books advise chitting seed potatoes in a "light, dry, and frost-free" place. I can't help wondering how much daylight reaches below the Macleods' spare bed.

Anyway, planting seed potatoes this early is risky. Frosts here can strike for two months yet. Emergent potato leafage is decidedly vulnerable. But John is no novice.

He will no doubt mound earth over them. And give them whatever other protection he can devise. I wouldn't be surprised if, just about the time everyone else is planting their spuds, he will be cropping his first Dukes, chuckling up his sleeve as he gently forks them up through earth like eggs from under a hen and heads lip-lickingly for the cooking pot.

Across the plots over a single weekend, as spring officially kicks in, wastelands of winter abandonment are suddenly displaying signs of horticultural enthusiasm and renewal. Hope is in the air. Large patchworks of soil have been turned over and manured and trenched. They look black and lovely.

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Alec (of Alec-and-Molly) tells me he is going to sow his parsnips next week.

"Not too early?" I hazard. He thinks not. Last year he grew parsnips - wow! - "this long!" (indicated with outstretched arms like a successful shark fisherman) in tall drainpipes.

THIS year the parsnips are to be planted in a barrel, and Alec has been warming up the soil therein for some time.

Alec is the only plotter I know here who is interested in trying to grow champion vegetables, as opposed to merely edible ones. This may have something to do with the fact that he does not like eating vegetables at all, though others in his family do. But vegetable growing is nevertheless the preoccupation that has rescued him from the ennui of retirement. Who can be bored when big is beautiful?

Alec kidded everyone a couple of years back that his prize zucchini had to be carted off in a special truck, it was of such whalelike proportions. I'm not sure if he grows potatoes.

But if he does, one thing is certain: They wouldn't fit under the bed.

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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