Friday, June 13, 2008

Reeds and saxophones

The more I look at other people's gardens, and the more I talk to other gardeners, the more I realise that I'm really pretty hopeless at most things horticultural. I don't grow vegetables (having converted the raised veg bed into a pond following the drought years of 2004-6). And I'm useless at taking cuttings and growing things from seed. But I do have one proud boast, and that is that I can supply the reeds for an entire woodwind section from my backyard. Arundo donax (left), which I grow to hide the trampoline, is grown as a commercial crop in southern France and Argentina for the manufacture of clarinet, oboe, bassoon and saxophone reeds.
I can't remember what sequence of serendipitous surfing provided me with this information, but I can now tell you that to provide a clarinet reed, the stem needs to be at least 2.8cms (just over an inch) wide. Depending on quality and make, the reeds cost up to around £30 for 10. Of course, in some parts of the world, arundo is a pestiferous thug - like Equisetum hyemale, or horsetail, which sensible UK gardeners are wary of planting unless it is in a pot. Coincidentally, equisetum (right), or reed rush as it’s sometimes known, is what clarinettists and saxophonists use to customise, or fine-tune, their reeds. If you're familiar with equisetum, it may amuse you to know that this potentially invasive weed costs musicians around a fiver for a packet containing no more than a dozen three-inch sections. I grow both arundo and equisetum in my garden. Which is probably why I’ve often noticed Steve, my daughter’s saxophone teacher, gazing thoughtfully out of the window...