There is nothing special at first glance – just a cul-de-sac of bungalows for older people hidden in the middle of Milton. But even the garden path is a giveaway, lined with flower pots that froth with colour. This is the home of a serious gardener.
Gerald Stratford certainly fits that description. While Elizabeth, his wife, concentrates her efforts on the borders, Gerald shows the visitor around his corner plot with all the pride of a new father. Rows and rows of potatoes, French beans, runner beans, lettuces – you name it, he grows it and that’s before the hallowed door of the greenhouse is opened.
But it quickly becomes clear that this is not just any old vegetable plot. The oil drums are a clue. A line of them stand upright, filled with sand, but with four drainpipes buried deep down inside, each one filled with compost and just one prize-winning parsnip or perhaps a carrot. These vegetables are, in every sense, showstoppers.
But what makes this former butcher, drayman and barge controller rather unique – and that is before mention is made of his status as a British game fishing champion in 1984 – is what happened when he decided to join a like-minded group of giant vegetable growers on Twitter. Around 70 enthusiasts shared photos of their successes and tips of the trade; so what? The sequel shocked Gerald to the core.
As per normal, in May he posted a photo on Twitter of his Rocket potatoes, an especially early variety. That lit the blue touch paper. Suddenly, his phone was ringing constantly with tweets, calls and messages from admirers. 70 grew overnight to 1000 but there was far more to come. Within weeks, he had received nearly 14000 tweets of admiration, not just admiration but questions about how he achieved his successes. A slightly bemused Gerald was informed by his son-in-law that such a level of interest officially qualified his tweets as having gone viral.
Before long, his Facebook account became an unofficial online advice service, his ideas sought, discussed and valued by gardeners across the globe. One especially popular audience is younger gardeners in the States, those keen to improve their abilities, not to mention their yields.
“It’s strange,” reports Gerald, “but they seem to regard me as the lovely old English gardener, the wise man of the soil; they treat me almost like a grandfather.”
Now he has the challenge of maintaining that pristine vegetable plot, not to mention his two allotments, while dispensing gardening advice to the four winds. This dual challenge brings immense satisfaction perhaps proved by the closing word of his every Tweet,
August – September 2020