So this week is National Allotment week, it brings back happy memories of my first allotment that we decided would be a wonderful idea ( myself and my partner at the time), we would be self sufficient in vegetables and it would be such fun to do!
Oh my goodness…..
We were really lucky as some local allotments out where I live in (very) rural Suffolk hadn’t been used for years and so were quickly available. In fact, we were told we could have two! So I quickly drove to see the local chap who ran the allotments and handed over my £10 for the year for both ( I know, how cheap was that!) and we were on our way.
Humming the tune to “The Good Life” we went down, armed with spades, hoes and various tools that we thought we’d need, we had seen the allotments from the footpath but never actually set foot on them until now. It turned out that a more suitable variety of tools would have been dynamite, a JCB and a flame thrower! Mare’s tail was everywhere, bindweed, fat hen towering over our heads, nettles galore and brambles that were actually deliberately trying to trip us at every opportunity. However – my partner and I were determined to make a start, and we did just that, slashing digging raking all commenced in earnest! Followed by bonfires and flasks of tea, rolls, oh, and blisters, hot baths and plasters too.
It was incredibly worth it though, after clearing the worst, we hired a huge tiller and we turned over the whole site, raked and removed root clumps, tilled again and repeated over and over for an entire weekend until we actually had a useable area.
We couldn’t wait to plant all sorts, starting with onion sets brassicas, lots of spuds and even butternut squashes, peas, beans and a pumpkin that we’d been growing in the greenhouse back at home.
I won’t say it was easy, but my goodness it was rewarding, being able to go down to the allotment after work, a flask of tea and some snacks and do some gardening was good for the soul, being able to sit and look over the river in the distance after doing a couple of hours’ weeding felt like an accomplishment and eating the fruits of our labours (literally) was the best feeling in the world. That was usually after giving away loads of fresh veg to our neighbours too! Who knew that 15 years later, I’d be lucky enough to work at Thompson & Morgan and be reminded today of those amazing days.
What were your first experiences of allotmenteering ? I’d love to hear them, feel free to share in the comments below.
All the best
Taking advantage of the dry weather this week to empty and turn my compost heaps. Always a satisfying job.
One now vacant for this year, one cooking and one cooked ready for the autumn.
Our resident slow-worms have emerged and are basking in the sun against the fence, they produce live young which will be happy in the warm compost heap where they will not now be disturbed for the whole of the summer.
The onions Red Barron and Golden Ball are in now, nothing much to do now with those except keep weed free and watered. Thinking of putting in the first early peas thus week as the ground has warmed up quite a bit. I will start them in old gutters covered with cloches to keep the mice out.
Last year every runner bean seed was carefully removed from the gutter over night, I imagined an enormous mouse in the garden, but found the stash later behind a pile of old pots at the back of the greenhouse. Lesson learned.
The flowers beds are now coming to life as the hardy perennials green up and the spring flowers put on a wonderful show. The trees and shrubs are leafing up with that wonderful lime green that you only get in spring. The buds are beginning to open on the tree peony, more buds than ever this year it just gets better and better as it establishes(its been there now for 5 years).
Hope you are all well and making progress in your gardens. I recently remembered an old saying that goes “A dry March and a wet May, fills barns and bays with corn and hay. I don’t know if it’s true but we seem to have a lot of corn sprouting up under our bird feeding station thanks to the House Sparrows throwing it out of the feeders. Usually the Collard Doves or the Wood Pigeons eat it, but they have missed some of the grains.
The garden is in bloom with Crocuses, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Tulips and Cherry Blossom on the trees. Mark has planted my 40 mixed Gladioli bulbs as well as the flowering shrubs, and two bags of potatoes. The rhubarb has started to sprout. He has also split a big pot of Black Mondo Grass into 4 pieces and dug them into what will be our new grassy knoll area. We took our ancient petrol mower out of the shed so we could service it, only to find after nearly fifteen years of use it has finally given up the ghost. Mark did try to fix it – as he has so many other times, but in this instance it was beyond repair, so we set out to the shops to buy a replacement, taking the old one to the recycling centre after breaking it up into piles of plastic and metal bits. The new petrol mower looks like Bumblebee from the film Transformers, it’s yellow and black and insect-looking, and I half expect it to morph into something else. It was on the sale so fingers crossed we have a bargain. I just hope it doesn’t sound too much like a mad wasp when the grass is cut next week.
Mark has been taking good care of the greenhouses for me, as up until the end of last week I hadn’t been able to get into them. I had a huge smile on my face when I finally got into them for the first time since last September when my chemo started. During that time I would stand outside the glass and ask mum or Mark to pick, cut, water or plant things for me. I only had a two week break before my chemo ended and my operation took place in early February, so I didn’t do as much sowing as I would have liked to, so I feel like I’m trying to catch up. Usually I would have sunflowers and sweetpeas germinating, but hopefully I will make progress soon.
My mobility is still not good enough to get me up the steps to the greenhouses so I have to go the long way around. It’s like an obstacle course, out of the back door down the path, into the front garden, across the grass then through the hedge tunnel and along what will be the grassy knoll and into back garden. Meanwhile I’m holding onto Mark and using a walking stick for balance – but I’m getting stronger so it won’t be long before I can get up the steps.
Anyway enough about my health, when I got into the mall greenhouse I was pleased to find that 4 Sweet Bonita Peppers have germinated and so have 9 tree seedlings. As yet there is no sign of the Bullhorn Peppers, Chilli Prairie Fire, or the Alderman Peas. But I do have a good pot of Mint plants that need pricking out and I found a Begonia Tuber sprouting that needs to be potted up. The Aloe Vera’s look like they are on steroids, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to be before they outgrow their space. The Money Tree looks so much healthier than last month.
In the large greenhouse I have a slightly neglected Spider plant that has luckily survived being forgotten about and only just watered, since who knows when, and some indoor hyacinths. I also found the Stephanotis plant that I had Christmas time. Unfortunately it didn’t like our house and the flowers fell off and the leaves turned yellow. It’s starting to recover now. Our bags of potatoes are also in there, and also a bunch of parsley plants. I think the parsley got into the borders accidentally when I thought I had lost all my seeds last May and I chucked the pots of dried out compost onto the tomato plants. The seeds must have lay dormant until the conditions were right. I’ve never had parsley grow really big in March before.
As it was a really warm Spring day today (23/03/17), I decided a trip to our local garden centre was in order, as I wanted to crack on and plant my tomato Yellow Stuffer and Sweet Aperitif seeds but I hadn’t any compost left. So off we went to buy a few bags, I also bought a packet of aubergine seeds as my trial seeds haven’t arrived yet – although I was shocked at the price – there times as much as T&M seeds. As I’m still not allowed to do strenuous activities, poor Mark had to sieve the compost while I spoke to mum on the phone. I also made him wash some plastic growing pots. I was determined to do some actual gardening myself though, so Mark put my potting tray onto my storage box seat just outside the greenhouse in the sun so I could plant my seeds in three inch pots. I then used different coloured lolly sticks to label each seed variety and gently watered them. I also rearranged the shelves although it’s still too untidy for me, as last year I let things slide, including stacking things neatly.
Whilst I was sowing my seeds Mark weeded around the blueberry and pink blueberry bushes and gave them an ericcasious feed, he dug the beds over in the large greenhouse, fertilised the soil, and then erected the cane, wire and string supports ready for the tomatoes in May. Too many times we have been caught out and the support frames have not ready in time and it’s a mad rush to do them.
Other things we have done over the last month was cutting the Autumn Fruiting Raspberries down to ground level. They have already put out new growth. Removing the flower spikes from the pampas grass and leaving them near the hedge for a few days to allow insects to escape, before putting them into the compost bin, and direct sowing a free packet of wildlife seeds from Grow Wild in the wildlife border. Talking of wildlife, the Blackbirds are feasting on the last of the Ivy berries, the Magpies are nesting in the tree that overlooks our garden, and the Sparrows are doing their best to chase them off. We have earlyBees on the flowers, Ladybirds in the leaves of the Knifophias and a Green Shield bug walking on the grass outside the greenhouse looking as if he is inspecting the glass for cleanliness. Soon the Blue Tits will be chasing each other in the cherry tree blossoms and I really hope I can be quick with my camera and capture their antics.
My brother still hasn’t built his greenhouse, but he has got herbs and potatoes growing in pots. Mum still hasn’t decided on her front garden renovation design, but she has decided to buy herself a small polythene greenhouse that can be taken down after the summer. The weather here promises to be nice over the weekend, (although we may be in for a few frosty nights), and into early next week so I plan to get on with more sowing. I still need to grow a plethora of flowers for my charity plant sale so I’m going to start with things that germinate quickly like French Marigolds and Amaranthus and Cornflowers. I may even do some Lettuces and Basil.
Finally I want mention that the trial trailing Antirhinums (still unnamed) have survived on pure neglect over the winter, the hanging basket was left where it originally hung in the summer, and astonishingly the plants have come back. I need to tidy up the soil in the basket by pulling out the weeds and giving the poor plant some food as well as a quick prune, but I am seriously impressed. Has anyone else who trials for T&M had their Antirhinums come back?
I hope the weather is kind to you.
Until next time, Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda X
I have just potted on thirty six tomato seedlings of seven varieties. Mountain Magic for its blight resistance, Country Taste for those big tasty fruits, Sweet Aperitif and Sungold for the delicious little mouthfuls, Red Alert a bush tomato that fruits very early on the bench outside and San Marzano for the best tasting pasta sauce to see me through the year.
I also spent some time in the sunshine yesterday digging bean trenches and filling them with compost from the heap, it will have time to settle before putting in the canes. The chickens enjoyed that, pulling out a few worms, wireworms, ants and those tiny black slugs that only they seem to see.
More compost was laid on the flower beds around the herbaceous perennials and shrubs to help keep down the weeds and retain moisture. We do have very dry summers here in East Anglia and every drop of water is precious. Three IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks with a watering system attached are in the fruit and vegetable garden but the flowers have to fend for themselves so mulching is a great help. We channel all our surface water collected in water butts to a large underground storage tank and from there it can be pumped into the IBC’s throughout the season. How lucky am I to have a very practical husband!
Why oh why don’t they make gardening gloves reversible? Being right handed I have a drawer full of superfluous intact left hand gloves as all my right hand ones get ripped and worn with monotonous regularity. As I value my nails I opt to double glove, that is, to don surgical gloves first (well, I do come from a medical family) followed by fine weave gardening gloves with reinforced palms and fingers. I find this way I can actually feel what I am doing! But it seems such a waste to throw a whole pair away just because one glove has had it. So if there are any dainty size 6½ left handed gardeners out there in need of spares please do get in touch!
And so…….Spring is here, that is if you are of the meteorological persuasion. Personally I feel like that’s cheating and am opting for Monday March 20th before I celebrate the demise of Winter. But the frogs are definitely in the first category! Having sluiced out the fermenting rill (oh boy did we stink; even after our clothes had gone in the wash the smell lingered on in our olfactory senses) we decided not to refill it straightaway. (Why not, David? You still haven’t given me a viable explanation.) So when David came running in from the garden a couple of days later, lamenting that it was, “Too late, too late”, I wondered what on earth had happened. I should have put two and two together when the previous evening friend Lesley reported hearing strange throbbing noises whilst sneaking a fag on the patio, during our pancake eating Shrove Tuesday Book Club: Frogspawn in the rill! One centimetre of rainwater was all the encouragement they needed. So now what? Do we gently fill it up and hope the frog spawn rises with the tide, or run the risk of evaporation if we leave it be? And how would they climb out? Eventually, having watched a group of five milling around (is that what they call it in polite society?) amongst the frogspawn, David came up with a makeshift ladder cut from a piece of tongue and groove floorboard. They queued up to use it but slid down again, so he then applied a piece of fine grade abrasive anti-slip tape. Lo and behold, off they went to find fresh fields, croaking away happily…..
Accident prone as ever, I dove into the flower bed to prune a clematis, only to catch my toe on the irrigation pipe coming out, and landed knee to shin on the stone path. Dear me, the air was blue and so were the bruises! Undeterred I soldiered on (back of hand to forehead) until rain sent me under cover. Oh the inevitability of my seed sewing failures: Basil nothing, leeks eaten by mice (you’ve overstayed your welcome folks), broad beans etiolated under protective tray cover, sweet peas dying of thirst. However all is not lost. I have managed to prick out three each of T & M tomato Garnet & Indigo Cherry Drops but alas no sign of Artisan Mixed. Perhaps a few cells of tomato Mountain Magic will produce better results. So the next lot of greenhouse sowings for March are as follows:
• Sweet pepper Gourmet
• Pepper Sweet Boneta
• Courgette de Nice a Fruit Rond
• Nasturtium Troika Spotty Dotty (surely these can’t go wrong)
And then there is the allotment. When it comes to The Good Life I am definitely a fair weather gardener. My first visit since last November was relatively painless. Hardly any weeds, a few brave broad bean seedlings valiantly growing away in splendid isolation. So I achieved my objective of pruning the blackberry hedge and the strawberry patch, with the welcome help of the allotment tortie cat. Originally from an adjacent semi, said cat opted for the outdoor life by adopting a plot holder who now provides bed and board. He feeds her twice a day and makes alternative arrangements in his absence, and has provided shelter in his shed with access via a cat flap. She has the hump right now because the local vixen has taken up temporary residence whilst in confinement with her two cubs. Obviously I didn’t hear this from her (!) but she did share my hessian ground sheet for a good hour, purring away as I struggled with the thorny brambles. (Who’s the mug here?) Anyway I digress. On my next visit I shall sow T & M Pea Terrain and Pea Eddy direct: I always surprise myself with the success of peas and beans. I have decided that I shall relocate the T & M tree lilies from the front garden to the allotment, to join the existing half dozen four year olds that flower so profusely you could see them from space. As I can’t grow them at home (as all parts of lilies are poisonous to cats) I might as well enjoy them on the plot. I wonder if the dahlias Fox Mixed and Trebbiano have survived, this being the coldest winter since transferring them three years ago. Plenty of daffs coming up though, good for cutting. All the flowers and bulbs on the allotment are from previous T& M trials, which reminds me that I have been on the Plant Triallists’ panel since its inception in 2010.
So with the growing season well under way, David and I have really got stuck in. Clearly not satisfied with the mess created by Rill-Gate, David pressure washed every hard surface in the garden. So traumatised am I by the inevitable mud splashes and sodden border edges that I won’t set foot outside until it’s all dried off and swept away. For my part, having completed all the heavy duty tasks – top dressing the borders with manure, successfully liberating T & M Tree Peony Hong Xia (2011) from its container to the pastel border, replacing aucuba with outrageously expensive cornus Kousa (and it’s not even my birthday for another month) and lifting & dividing monstrous miscanthus – I can smugly look forward to pottering about over the next few weeks. Who am I kidding; it’s almost time to hard prune the fuchsia and the hardy salvias, bring the giant cannas out of hibernation, and so the list goes on……..still, it keeps me off the streets! Love, Caroline
January, supposedly named after the god Janus, a two headed figure who could look to both the future and the past, the reason why we make resolutions at this time of year, to change things in our life. So it’s no surprise then, that we gardeners are very probably this month perusing seed catalogues, drawing up plans, and generally getting our kit ready for the growing year.
Ianuarius – (Latin for January) translates to a doorway – and this is where I feel I am, getting ready to step out into a new adventure. I can’t believe this will be my third year for blogging for T&M! Last year was not my best gardening year due to my cancer, but this year, I really hope to catch up and transform the garden, learn new things and have a lot of fun on the way.
The first thing I learned this year is how powerful plants can be. During my final session of chemotherapy, I decided to google what goes into the drugs that are saving my life. Cabol, was a synthetic and uninteresting drug, but Taxol, as the name suggests, is derived from the Pacific Yew tree. It also contains poisonous plant alkaloids from the periwinkle (Vinca Major) and the American wild mandrake, commonly known as the May Apple. Plus it has extracts from the Asian Happy tree a 40 meter giant that is also grown in Canada – no one would choose to ingest these, no wonder I have felt so rough!
But now with the chemo over I am no longer banned from the greenhouse, so I sit with my seed tins beside me and make a list of everything I want to grow this year. I start by picking out the fruit and veg I want, I’m going to grow both yellow and red tomatoes. Yellow Stuffer, and either Mountain Magic or Sweet Aperitif. I also pick Bullhorn and Sweet Boneta peppers as well as chilli Prairie Fire. The heritage pea Alderman is also on my list. I have asked if I can trial aubergine Listada De Gendia and some melon seeds and some Calendula. I hope I am allowed.
I will also be working on my new grassy knoll area, so I will be growing Banksia Hookeriana, and Horses Tails, as well as a variety of other grasses. When it comes to flowers, I seem to be especially attracted to all things orange this year. I am thinking of buying the Dahlia Jowey Linda, I love its pom-pom shape; I will mostly likely be growing Zinnias, Star or Veldt and Cosmos too.
My other mad plan is I want to have a charity plant sale with all of the extra plants I end up growing. I want to raise money for a local cancer support group who have been amazingly helpful in the last few months. I have no idea if I can achieve everything but I’m definitely going to give it a go.
To kick start the growing year, Mark has already sieved the compost and sown the peas, peppers and chillies. Nothing has germinated yet, but they have only been in for about ten days. The weather has been unusually mild with only one or two days of frost. Most days it’s at least 8 degrees and our lawn is growing, and will probably need a cut soon.
Apart from the germinating seeds, inside the little greenhouse I have some winter flowering shrubs that I had on special offer for £10 back in December from T&M. They are Chimonanthus praecox – ‘Wintersweet’, Viburnum x bodantense ‘Dawn’ plus Sarcococca confusa. I also took advantage of a magazine offer to claim an extra Viburnum X bodantense, fertiliser and snips for just the price of P&P, so it worked out about £4 per shrub. Bargain! The shrubs can be planted any time between now and March, Mark has already repotted them into 9cm pots as the roots are establishing quickly. Ideally the bigger the rootball the better they should settle in the garden.
I am hoping to transplant them in February, I don’t want to take the risk of frost damage or high winds just yet. Also the small flowers on the Wintersweet are making the greenhouse smell divine.
There are also the ever present Aloe Veras, some mint that needs repotting badly, and the Money tree.
In the large greenhouse we have random amaranthus seedlings growing where the aubergines were last year. I have no idea how they got there. The only thing I can think of is the seeds must have lay dormant in the soil from when we grew them at the edge of the wall before the greenhouse was built. I am leaving them grow for now and will transplant them when they are bigger. Amaranthus are really hardy, I have let them dry out completely in pots and they always bounce back. They love the heat and the longer they have in the greenhouse the bigger they become. There is also a Christmas basket containing a baby conifer and an ivy. The basket also contained Poinsettia, but it didn’t seem to live very well in our house. These plants are going to go into the garden eventually, but for now they are getting used to no longer being in the central heated warmth.
Another offer that T&M did with a magazine recently was to claim 40 free Gladioli bulbs for just £5.95. I wasn’t going to order them, but then I started reading the Margery Fish Cottage Garden Plants book, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I accidentally bought them too! Whilst I have longed for a cottage style garden, her insight showed me an obvious flaw in why I can’t really have the garden I desire. A cottage garden is usually surrounded by stone walls. Walls that will hold in the heat and protect the plants, we have a wooden picket fence along our front garden meaning that although it will filter the wind and offer some protection, it’s not ideal. Although saying that I do have success growing lupins and and foxgloves so there is hope yet.
My brother, Andrew, has recently bought a Veg Trug™ and flower pouches so he and his girls can grow strawberries and vegetables this year. He also says he going to finish building his greenhouse. (This is an ongoing saga, but at least now the base has been done.) My niece was so excited when I sent her and her sisters some seeds to try. I gave them lettuce, carrots, basil and tomatoes. Things that should germinate easily and quickly so they don’t have to wait too long for the results. It’s so good to see youngsters getting involved in gardening and making the connection between the land and the plate. Hopefully it will set them up to make healthy food choices and encourage them to be outdoors rather than inside on a computer. As well growing their own produce the girls regularly help their grandparents in the greenhouse, and me in mine when they visit.
Mum has two projects on the go, firstly she wants to grow her own tomatoes this year, but she wants to raise them from seed. So she is making a cold frame from the vegetable trays from her old fridge. I like this idea of recycling the plastic boxes, as they already have drainage holes in them and they are deep enough to hold several pots. Her other task is to redesign her tiny front garden. When I say tiny, I mean it, as you can see from the picture. She wants to keep the roses and the gravel but she says she wants a new theme. I am rubbish at designing and my gardening style is too wild for her. By that I mean I grow for nature rather than myself. I have native flowers, wild flowers and stinging nettles in borders for the butterflies. I grow sedums, hebe and ivy for the bees, honeysuckle for the ladybirds and leave the seed heads on Verbena Bonarienses for the Blue Tits. I love the dandelions, buttercups, thistles, clover and daisies that grow in our lawns which most people, including Mark, hate. In return I am rarely plagued by pests. The worst I have is earwigs in the dahlias, as looking after the insects means we have a variety of other creatures visiting our garden. We have a massive family of house sparrows, as well as a resident wren, robin and collard doves. We have a family of blackbirds and magpies, plus plenty of other feathered friends too. We have bats feeding in the summer, foxes, hedgehogs, and slow worms. Not bad for an urban garden in the industrial side of Pembrokeshire.
So there’s plenty to look forward to. Soon it will be time for my daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses to flower, they are budding, and there is new growth coming on last year’s trial Antirrhinums, these have stayed out all winter in a hanging basket on a west facing wall. They are yet to be named, and I didn’t see them in the catalogue, so I’m intrigued to see what other trialists make of them and if they were a success. I’m hoping to start off my sweet peas next. Then the potatoes.
Until next time.