In nearly every respect Medwyn Williams (aka "Medwyn of Anglesey") seems like a normal fellow. He is a Welshman of an age somewhere North of fifty. He is retired from a long career in government. His smooth, youthful face expresses warmth and intelligence. In photographs he appears in a fine-looking suit draped over a generous frame. Medwyn Williams writes a good deal and his texts read like they belong to the man in the photographs. His material is handled with crisp clarity and helpfulness. He shuns illustrations preferring the ruler as he offers tips and encouragement to his readers. And doubtless he has a great number of readers in places high and low. Medwyn Williams is into size.
The English gardener is many things. He is hard working, frugal, observant, patient, and communicative to the point of being chatty. But he is also something else: Competitive. The English are rather keen on something they call "competitive gardening" a hobby whose spirit is captured in the brief and inelegant phrase, "Mine is bigger than yours." I don't mean to suggest that the English gardener's sizable interest in size is entirely a matter of ruler or scale. English vegetable competitions also emphasize an unblemished specimen of uniform and 'classic proportions'. But it is clear from those who make into the winner's circle using specialized seeds and underground tips that this is gardening in the "Big League.'
Americans gardeners, too, reach for super-sized produce. A careful reading of a Gurney's or Burpee's seed catalog will discover pulse-quickening descriptions that include words like "huge," "enormous" and "fist-sized." But unlike English enthusiasts we haven't marshaled entire seed lines devoted to the exhibition market nor do we have the expertise to boast of a 15# Kelsae onion with a girth of 33 inches.
Until recently I've held a smug and self-serving opinion about competitive gardening. I would quote Swift's line in Gulliver's Travels that "….whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind…" and note that it applied to "two ears or blades" rather than an a double-sized ear or blade. But my 2007 crop of Walla Walla onions was so diminutive that I found myself delivering them in brown paper wrappers. It was time to study Medwyn's tips on growing onions.
Attached is a photo of my 2008 Walla Walla onion crop. They are not 15 pounds nor do they have 33 inch waistlines. They do, however, catch one's breath. And my cipollini which share space on the onion drying table seem embarrassed. Medwyn is the Man!
These onions were organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon, Sonoma County.
Vegetables of Interest, 2008