I had a few days off last week, and part of the plan was to pay my final visit to the allotment. I hadn’t been since November, and wasn’t sure what I would find. Would someone have helped themselves to any of my stuff in the meantime, figuring that the place had been abandoned? No, everything was still there. What I wasn’t expecting was this:
Without informing me, someone had been on to the plot and cut the whole thing down to ground level. With absolutely no care or finesse, and quite a lot of violence.
Several of my plastic planters had borne the brunt, and won’t be reusable. Fortunately, it seems as though only one plant was hacked to death – I can’t even identify the remains.
My allotment has been bushwhacked.
I wasn’t chuffed. If I hadn’t been planning on giving it up this year, I would have been very upset. But we salvaged what we could – the final plants, and the tools and toolbox. It took 3 trips in the car to bring everything back to the house.
I left the compost bins in place, including the Green Cone composter, which is not rodent-proof. When Ryan lifted the lid to check the volume inside, he found it to be inhabited by mouse. Sleek, glossy and cute, well-fed mice, who had gnawed their way in through the plastic basket. They can keep their 5-star accommodation – there’s no place for it in the garden.
I will send the gate key back, and then my second foray into keeping an allotment will come to an end. About as successfully as the first.
Posted in Blog on Mar 3, 2015 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 2, 2015
I wrote (but didn’t publish) this back in May, when the weeds took over the allotment and I realised I didn’t have the time and energy that would be required to get it back into shape. At the time I knew we were moving, but not where; even had things turned out differently, I’m now too far away to keep the allotment, and am slowly clearing it. I have updated the blog post to reflect the new situation, but my feelings are still the same :)
Sad scarecrow knows it’s nearly time to say goodbye
My allotment and I didn’t meet under the best of circumstances. The man formerly known as my husband had left, I was getting divorced, and I faced the imminent prospect of having to sell my home and the garden I had lavished attention on for more than a decade. The plants I had collected would soon be homeless. Heartsick and despairing, I knew that it would be a long time before I owned my own patch of land again.
When I met the allotment one sunny morning, it looked as though it provided the ideal solution. A place where I could store my plants until they had a permanent home – or perhaps the allotment would become their permanent home. In the meantime, I had somewhere to get my hands dirty, and mess around with pots and compost.
But I had a long-distance relationship with my plot. I was a student, essentially homeless myself and unsure about the future. My allotment had already had at least one careless owner, and with my focus elsewhere it became ever more unruly. When I had the time and energy I tried to make a go of it; when the weeds died down last autumn, it almost looked manageable.
But when spring sprung again the allotment once more continued on its chosen path, a journey that leads through meadows and shrubs to its ultimate goal – returning itself to its ancestral forest state. It swallowed my plants in pots. It became impossible to find a safe path from one side to the other. The weeds conquered every inch of soil, and madly seeded in the hope of gaining new territory on my neighbours’ plots.
I have a job now, my days are not my own. I have chosen this town to be my home for the foreseeable future, and have found a place where I can settle permanently with my plants. My days, and my mind, are overfull. I don’t have the time, or the energy, to deal with the intransigent succession and turn my plot into the haven I would like it to be.
I love allotments. I think they’re an unimaginably important resource for gardeners without gardens. The good ones develop a welcoming, community spirit. Allotments encourage us to take exercise outside in the fresh air, to eat more fruit and vegetables, to reduce our food miles. To stay off the couch.
But they’re not for me. I am an introvert, and contact with other people drains rather than energizes me. My leisure pursuits tend to be solitary, ‘me’ time where I can recharge my batteries so that I’m ready to re-engage with the world. Popping out into the garden and playing with my plants is one of my favourite things, but it’s not so simple with an allotment. I have to make the effort to get up and go to the allotment, which is far from easy when I’m settled at home. There are gates to grapple with (an unfortunate necessity to protect the site from thieves and vandals), and the potential for running into people who want to chat.
I don’t want to chat. I don’t want to weed and weed and weed. I don’t want to strim. I don’t want to dig. I need peace and solitude in which to tend my plants. I need freedom from the guilt of a plot that’s out of control, and the worry of a strongly-worded rebuke from the allotment committee. Instead, I can commit to a long-term relationship with my new garden that gives as much as it takes.
And that’s why I’m breaking up with my allotment.
Posted in Blog on Nov 24, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Nov 24, 2014
Tags: allotment & gardens.
Ryan and I have (finally!) moved into our new house! And, whilst we had the use of a van, we collected all of the tall plants from the allotment. So the first refugees from my old garden have arrived in their new home. As well as my Christmas tree, there’s two cobnuts, a crab apple, a golden bamboo, a rosemary and a lavender, the medlar and one that remains unidentified until I can have a good look at it.
I also brought back two scented pelargoniums that I uncovered from amongst the weeds on the allotment – one is Attar of Roses :) They were part of an order of four; all that remains of one is an empty pot. One seems to have been eaten to the ground by snails. Frankly, I am surprised any survived!
And I found, but didn’t bring back for the moment, my horseradish.
There’s a lot more work to do, rescuing plants from the allotment and bringing them home, but that can be done over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied unpacking indoors, and I have some nice big pots ready to be planted up with winter veg.
Did I mention that I now live just a stone’s throw from a garden centre?
Posted in Blog on Oct 17, 2014 · ∞
Tags: gardens & allotment.
“We grow! We harvest! We eat!” mural in the Exotic Garden at Ryton organic gardens
I haven’t felt much like writing over the last few weeks. I haven’t felt like doing much of anything. It took Ryan and I far longer than we had anticipated to get his flat ready for sale – having moved some of my things in, it was cluttered. We had to put most of my things (and plenty of his) in storage to declutter, before redecorating the whole place. It was worth it in the end, when we quickly found a buyer for the flat once we’d chosen the house we hope to live in, but it left us both exhausted.
The allotment has been left to fend for itself far too much this year. We tried at one point to control some of the weeds, but we lost that battle. I popped over last Sunday morning to see whether any of the plants that I have in pots there (the refugees from my old garden) needed watering in the sunny weather. I couldn’t even see them, they were hidden by a wall of grass and bindweed. Even the areas we had cleared were smothered. I felt a little bit like sleeping beauty, waiting for a prince to rescue me. Except that the allotment doesn’t need one prince with a sword, it needs an army of princes armed with strimmers and hedgetrimmers to break a path through at this point in time. It’s not going to happen.
We’re ploughing though the mountain of paperwork that comes with buying and selling houses. For the last couple of weeks Ryan has been working some insane hours. Warm nights and early sunrises aren’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, and sometimes you just have to concentrate on the things you can do whilst waiting for a situation to change.
The garden that may become mine was, last time I saw it, in much better condition. It’s probably a similar sort of size to the allotment, but it’s in three different sections. The main ‘back’ garden is a square off to the side of the house. There’s a strip along the front side of the house, and another strip a similar size and aspect on the other side of the garden that can’t be entirely fenced off because there’s a supply box of some description that the utility company need to have access to. There’s a lawn, some shrubs around the edges, and plenty of vertical spaces to make use of. The house faces west, with the garden to the north – at midsummer all but the patio is in full sun at midday. I’m not sure there’s room for a greenhouse.
I have been trying to think of a plan for the garden, but of course it is difficult without proper measurements – and there’s no point getting too invested until the house buying process is further along. I was originally trying to think of a ‘theme’ for the garden, but nothing really seemed to fit. More recently I have taken a more basic tack, thinking about how we want to use it.
My old garden was large, and gave me a lot of scope for gardening, but it never became a place where we simply went and sat. There wasn’t much of a patio, and most of the garden was in full sun (and far too hot) all day during the summer. There wasn’t any shade for us or the plants. With the new garden we’d like to be able to sit outside, have a BBQ and eat outside, and have some shelter from the sun. The living room has patio doors that open onto the garden; it would be nice to sit inside with them open and have the sounds and smells of the garden wafting in. Essentially, I suppose, I want a garden that is an outdoor room.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be full of roses and carpeted with a well-manicured lawn, though. And it’s certainly not going to be one of those ghastly “low maintenance” gardens. *shudder* I’m still me, and I still want plenty of space to grow my plants. I want to be able to pop outside before work, or when I get home, and at the weekends, and spend time gardening. There isn’t a definitive list of the things I want to grow – I like trying new things, and I get new ideas all the time. So although I’d like a defined structure to the garden (something the old one never really had) that’s relatively easy to maintain, I want plenty of scope to experiment with the planting.
A compost bin and a water butt are pretty much essential. There will be some perennials, and climbing plants. I may experiment with stepover apples, and other trained fruits. Ryan is keen to put in some raised beds, and I concur – they will be great for annuals and biennials, concentrating most of my gardening effort on the plants that need it. I think a strip of herb garden alongside the front door would be both welcoming and efficient – with access to a larger kitchen again I’d like to get back into garden-to-table eating.
So… I may not have a plan, but I have some ideas. Now I just need the garden :)
What’s your favourite part of your garden?
Posted in Blog on Jun 28, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 10, 2015
Tags: general & allotment.
My allotment doesn’t have a shed. I wish it did, because it would be somewhere to keep the rake (which is too long for my tool store) and to shelter from the rain. But on my fantasy allotment I wouldn’t use my shed for storage at all – I’d turn it into an ice cream shed. I’d need to run up a power cable for the ice cream maker and the freezer. Then all summer long I’d hide away in there, concocting flavours worthy of Willy Wonka himself, from the cool things I’m growing on my allotment (or that I could forage from the local hedgerows). And then, on summer days, I could open up the doors and sell ice creams to my allotment neighbours. When they’ve got to the point where they’re too hot to do any more digging, they can sit down and have a breather and sample one of my wares.
The most memorable ice cream I ever tasted wasn’t an Italian gelato, but a buffalo milk ice cream flavoured with lavender. It neatly avoided my cow’s milk intolerance and introduced a new flavour at the same time. It was the first ice cream I’d had in months, and a real treat. The trick with lavender is not to make the flavour too strong – like rosemary it has a bit of a medicinal edge to it that people find unattractive. It might take me a little while to perfect that one, tinkering away in my shed.
I started my ice cream experiments last year. This oat milk strawberry ice cream was delicious, and an easy one to make from homegrown strawberries. The flavour really floods out, even seducing Ryan (who is not a big fan of strawberries). One my old friends sprinkles black pepper on her strawberries when she eats them; I can try adding a dash to the mix and see if my strawberry ice cream gets even better.
Frozen yoghurt is another speciality, easy enough for me to make with goat’s milk yoghurt. (The Nutella-flavoured sheep’s milk fro yo turned out to have a strange mouth feel, but I liked it.) Lemon curd is a lovely flavour, and a good way to use up some eggs if you have your own chickens.
The simplest flavours might prove to be bestsellers. The allotment has lots of fruit plants (blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants), and cooked down into a compote they are easily mixed into frozen yoghurt for a fruity sensation.
I can even do sorbets – the gooseberry bush furnished us with a lovely one last year, which barely made it into the freezer before it was scoffed. With mature rhubarb plants producing plenty of stems, there’s an opportunity there as well.
So… if I build my ice cream shed, what’s your suggestion for an allotment-inspired flavour? What would entice you back for a second scoop?
Posted in Blog on Apr 30, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 9, 2015
Tags: allotment & food.
One of my exes, a biker, had a peculiar approach to work-life balance. He refused to work on any day that was sunny, dry and warm – the conditions in which the roads got sticky enough for him to ‘get his knee down’. Should he find himself at work when this climatic ideal occurred, he simply clocked out and went home. He had flexible working hours and so I’m sure* he made up the time on drizzly and uninspiring days.
My own working arrangements are not quite as laissez faire, but having worked some extra time I took the opportunity to leave an hour early yesterday and head to the allotment whilst it wasn’t raining. The allotment hasn’t seen me in a couple of weeks; in my absence it has been concentrating on growing bindweed and dandelions.
I was impressed to see that my horseradish thong is alive and kicking and well on the way to being a special kind of garden thug. I was also intrigued by how many brown shield bugs were… ahem… active on one of the leafy remnants left behind by a previous occupant. He said it was spinach; it can’t be, it has resprouted this year from a root ball too massive to pull up.
I went to the allotment with the goal of collecting enough potting compost to repot my six new Chilean guava plants, which were starting to look a little pot-bound. I also planted my oca tubers, which were chitting nicely. Although colder nights are forecast for the weekend, I’m not worried. They should still be under the soil if a frost comes, and (like potatoes) they can recover from a touch of frosted foliage anyway.
I cut the flowers off the rhubarb (mature plants that have been on the allotment far longer than I have) and harvested my first stems. I didn’t get around to cooking them last night, so I have yet to discover how nice they are (the variety remains nameless). Watch this space….
By the time I had done that it was, of course, raining. It is April, after all. So I went home and pricked out my two Calamondin orange seedlings, and sowed 5 more seeds. But just before I left I discovered that my little Christmas tree (which grows in a large pot) has cones on for the first time. Aren’t they lovely?
Allotments are traditionally measured in rods, which gives you the other half of the title for this post. I have been writing about eyes at work this week.
*actually, I’m not ;)
Posted in Blog on Apr 29, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 31, 2014
If you haven’t already seen it, check out Google’s doodle for today. To celebrate the spring equinox, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, they’ve got a little cartoon human watering the plants. They grow pretty fast – must be weeds ;)
It’s a work day, so I won’t be celebrating the first day of spring by doing any gardening, but I did get out to the allotment at the weekend to make some progress there. Ryan helped me to set up my water butt in a new (but still temporary) location. It doesn’t have a downpipe feeding into it as I don’t have a shed, but it will collect some water when it rains. Ryan also helped me to dig out some unwanted rootballs; I inherited a thriving population of thornless blackberries when I took on the plot, and if I don’t thin them down I won’t have any room to grow anything else!
I brought home some potting compost in which to sow some seeds – three varieties of sweet pepper (F1 Sunshine, Tequila Sunrise and Corno di Toro Rosso) plus Garnet, which is bred for drying and grinding into paprika. The white sprouting broccoli and flower sprouts I sowed on Sunday have already germinated and are pushing up little seedlings on my office windowsill (brassicas being the speed freaks of the seed world). Like the peppers, my final sowing will take a little longer. Ibicella lutea syn Proboscidea lutea is a variety of Devil’s Claw or martynia. These plants grow hard, spiny seed pods that are shaped like caltrops and stick into the feet of animals. It’s their means of seed dispersal. That would be enough to make them interesting, but those same seed pods are edible when immature, and can be turned into pickles.
I don’t know of anyone who has tried growing Devil’s Claws, so if you have then do let me know in the comments. You can read more about my adventures in growing unusual edible plants (and the characters I’ve met along the way) in my new ebook, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. The official release date is 1st May 2014 and you can preview the book at Smashwords. It’s also now available for pre-order from the NOOK book store!
Posted in Blog on Mar 20, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 20, 2014
Tags: allotment & unusual.
One of the plants that I was keen to transplant from the garden to the allotment was comfrey (Symphytum officinalis). I had several plants, which I grew from root cuttings several years ago. Some were growing in the concrete blocks in the raised beds – which turned out to be a mistake, as they’d grown very impressive roots and wedged themselves in firmly. These ones were extracted with a sledgehammer. I took them to the allotment and planted them around my new green cone composter, and despite the terrible abuse they are still alive and growing new leaves. It’s a tough old plant.
Comfrey is a popular plant with people who practice permaculture, because it has so many uses. With deep roots that are able to bring nutrients up from the subsoil, comfrey is known as a ‘dynamic accumulator’ plant. These nutrients are stored in the leaves, which can then be used to feed other plants.
Comfrey is a very vigorous perennial, which can be cut several times each season. The composition of the leaves means that they break down rapidly and be used fresh to feed plants – either placed in planting holes or left on the soil surface as a nutritious mulch. Comfrey leaves also act as a compost activator – so adding them to the compost heap speeds up the composting process as well as adding nutrients.
You can also turn your comfrey leaves into a very good liquid fertilizer. If you drown the leaves in a bucket of water for several weeks, you’ll get a smelly liquid feed that is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers because it is high in potash. You can try adding scented herbs like thyme or rosemary to the mix to improve the aroma, but comfrey is different from most plants in that its leaves will happily rot down without the addition of water. Seal the leaves into a bucket for a few weeks, weighed down, and they will produce a brown liquor that can be diluted into a much less stinky liquid feed. Whichever method you choose, the remains of the rotted leaves can be added to the compost heap at the end.
And if that’s not enough – bees really love comfrey flowers, and plant has medicinal uses, although it is no longer recommended as an edible.
If you want to add a comfrey plant or two to your garden then buy root cuttings (or beg them from someone with mature plants) of Bocking 14. This variety is sterile, so it won’t self-seed all over the garden. Root cuttings are usually available from May to August. Keep new plantings well watered until they are established. If the ground is not ready for planting then your comfrey will be happy in a container for quite a while.
And if you want to do things the permaculture way, consider planting your comfrey around the compost heap. Not only will it be handy, but it will soak up any nutrients that leach out of the compost!
Liked this? Then you may also enjoy:
(B)eat your weeds: liquid feeds
, episode 88 of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show, on organic fertilizers
, autumn green manures
and The Peat-Free Diet
Posted in Blog on Oct 19, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 10, 2015
Tags: allotment & permaculture.
At some point in the future, I would like a garden with a water feature. A natural swimming pool would be my first choice, but seems unlikely. A fish pond would be lovely – as long as I was also blessed with hours to while away next to it, watching the fishes do their thing.
Of course, the kind of pond in which fish are happy takes some work. I’d need some gadgets to keep the water clear and I’d need to make sure the fish were protected from these:
My allotment could be home to a small pond or two, although they wouldn’t be the sort in which fish would be happy. But that’s an advantage, in some ways, as it gives me the opportunity to grow some edible pond and bog plants – things that the fishes would be only too happy to nibble on, were the two combined. For a while now I have been pondering which aquatic edibles I would like to grow. For simplicity, and since it won’t be a ‘proper’ pond, I have lumped ‘marginal’ plants that like growing around the edges of ponds in with the bog plants, which like sitting in soggy soil….
The advice given for watercress, Nasturtium officinale, used to be that it should be grown in running water, and that’s certainly how it was grown in the traditional watercress beds. You do need to be careful that the water in which its grown is not contaminated with liver flukes, which have a complicated lifecycle that involves a stage in water and a stage in a nice, warm, mammalian host. It’s an issue where the water abuts a pasture, but not really in a back garden. Still, running water is a little tricky (although I have seen one enterprising set-up with watercress grown in a pot under a leaky hosepipe…). Nowadays we know that watercress can be grown anywhere, as long as you keep it nice and damp, so it’s a bog plant (B) option.
My wasabi, Wasabia japonica, may also prefer being upgraded from being in a dryish container to a bog garden, although no doubt then it would be even more of a slug magnet.
I have always wanted to try growing water chestnuts. The proper Chinese ones are Eleocharis dulcis; it looks as though they can be grown as a pond plant (P) or bog plant. The Water caltrop, Trapa natans, can be grown as a water chestnut substitute, and is a pond plant happy in water up to 2 feet (60 cm) deep.
Radix, with his joy of spreading unusual edibles far and wide, is keen for me to try:
- Sagittaria latifolia (P), Wapato or duck potato
- Aponogeton distachyos (P), Water Hawthorn or Waterblommetjie, which I think I’ve already killed off once, in a bucket
- Lycopus asper (B), Rough bugleweed, a US native
- Houttuynia cordata (B), Chameleon plant, an ornamental and very pungent herb with a revved-up coriander flavour
- Cyperus longus (B,P), Galingale
- Butomus umbellatus (B,P), Flowering rush
- Wolffia arrhiza (P), Duckweed, although you hardly need a pond as it’s tiny and will grow in a beaker of water
- And Zizania aquatica or Z. latifolia (P), two types of wild rice that might be a bit more successful than my mobile rice paddies a few years ago.
- Ipomoea aquatica (P,B), Morning glory (!) is a tender (and tasty) aquatic plant I could try during the summer months
- As is Persicaria odorata (B), Vietnamese coriander, which would be happy in nice warm, damp soil.
Garden Organic list Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus
(B), Water mint, Mentha aquatica
(B), Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria
(B), Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata
(B,P), Yellow water lily, Nuphar lutea
(P), Reedmace, Typha
spp. (B) and Common reed, Phragmites australis
(B,P) in their factsheet on Edible Aquatic Plants, which is only available to members. Some of those would be far too large for a container pond.
PFAF include gunnera (Gunnera tinctoria) in The Edible Pond and Bog Garden, although I suspect eating it would be a step too far or most people! There’s some other plants on the list that I haven’t heard of, but I think it will be best to start relatively simply and see what works before branching out into anything too unusual.
Which aquatic edible plants have you tried growing?
Posted in Blog on Jul 5, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Nov 20, 2014
Tags: unusual & allotment.
I am leaving all of the windowboxes in place for the next inhabitants of my house, and so yesterday I moved the surviving plants from there into pots that I can take away with me.
The windowbox wall has been through several incarnations, but these two troughs struck me as embodying the garden in microcosm. They encapsulate the whole spirit of what I was trying to do here. They were planted last year (iirc), and have been fending for themselves ever since. What has thrived is the blood-veined sorrel (aka bloody dock) and the wild strawberries. There’s some honesty in there, and a self-seeded lemon balm. There’s also the odd weed, but that’s hardly surprising and they’re nothing pernicious. These edible plants are co-existing, and they look fantastic with absolutely no input from me.
When I take these plants (and the others now in pots) to the new allotment, they will be bringing the spirit of my garden with them, and that’s a lovely thought. They will also be bringing some of the life from the soil I have been nurturing over the last decade or so, and hopefully some seeds from the plants I have been allowing to self-seed. I am not going to end up with a conventional allotment, weed-free and planted up in neat rows!
I am coming to terms with what will have to be left behind, and am excited about the potential of the new plot. And there are some benefits to moving on, beyond the new challenge. I am gradually meeting my fellow allotmenteers, and so far they have all been lovely. I met the former owner of my plot today (he had three, and still has two), and we had a good chat. He’s happy that someone has taken it on, and was explaining a little bit about the fruit plants he’s left behind. It’s also a relief to know that I won’t be responsible for repainting the fence panels, which are starting to look a bit ratty. Painting the fence the first time was a real chore, and not a job I was looking forward to re-doing.
I have dug up the Jerusalem artichoke patch, which had not been harvested for a couple of years and so was congested, with some truly humungous tubers that took some digging out. Most of them have been sent off for municipal composting, but I have saved some of the more regular-sized ones and potted them up. If they survive that kind of treatment then they can be planted out on the allotment for next year.
Today I have sown some chard seeds, which will hopefully give me some nice leafy harvests later in the year. And I have resolved, once again, to get better at labelling everything – there are some alliums in the garden that I can’t identify, and I can’t remember what I planted in that spot.
My next priority is to set up a compost bin, so I can start composting again – there’s really nothing better for the soil. There’s one compost bin left at the house, which I can empty and take with me, and my dad has given me another of his which is spare (having taken both of my really good ones last year). I have found a local source of free (and very fresh!) horse manure, so every time I go past I collect a couple of bags and put them on the allotment. Once the compost bin is set up I can get them rotting down, and that will be a great source of organic matter for the future.
My first attempt at collecting manure was a little smelly. The bags were very fresh, and a little juicy, and had been sitting out in the sun for a while. They dribbled a bit in the boot of the car, and I found I just couldn’t wash the smell off my hands. Now I take a plastic trug and my gardening gloves, and life stays a lot fresher!
I don’t know yet whether the allotment site gets deliveries of leaves in the autumn, or wood chips, or anything like that. There are some piles around, so it’s a possibility, but they may also have been delivered for specific plots. I have joined the mailing list, so I should find out about these things in due course.
I also have a new plastic tool store to set up, so I can stop ferrying things backwards and forwards in the car. I need to clear a spot for it first, though, so I guess its about time I put my gardening boots back on :)
Posted in Blog on Jun 6, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Nov 20, 2014