It’s the last day of May on Plot 28b and the vegetation is thickening up nicely.
The herb patch in front of my shed has many new additions this year including Hyssop and Garlic chives. Nasturtiums and Calendula have been planted to give a dash of colour amongst all that green magic.
The salad bed is looking particularly scrumptious, too.
I’ve waited nine whole months to see Sweet Peas blooming on my plot again. So today marks a special day as my first Erewhon Sweet Pea blossomed into life.
After a relatively short wait of six months on the allotment waiting list, I was finally handed the keys to my plot in April 2018. The plot needed quite a bit of work. For one thing, the central path running through it was covered by artificial grass, which was muddy and waterlogged making it nigh on impossible to lift. There were the rotting remains of last years’ growth and weeds with stubborn old roots that had formed sinewy networks several inches deep. Then there was the ghastly pink shed with its makeshift window of blue tarpaulin, not to mention the glass-less greenhouse. It’s little wonder, then, that I spent the first few days of my allotment adventure pottering about, semi-dazed at the enormity of the task I had taken on.
In fact, my allotment adventure began in the summer of 2017 when I was out walking one evening, heading towards the meadows close to where I live. Perhaps distracted by the ongoing Brexit shenanigans, I took a wrong turn and found myself on a narrow lane where, halfway down, I was stopped in my tracks by the sheer beauty of the sprawling allotment site. I must have been there for a good ten minutes, peering through the locked gates of this, well, secret garden! I’d never really had the urge to take up gardening, never so much as considered allotmenteering. So whatever happened to me in those ten minutes gawping at the gardens was powerful stuff, because I was not the same person after I left it. Indeed, I went straight home, fired up my laptop and set about emailing the site secretary to enquire about putting my name on the waiting list. Next I looked up Monty Don on YouTube. And the rest is history…
But I digress.
Bearing in mind that I was a complete novice when I took on my plot, that my gardening knowledge extended to keeping alive for a week a plant I took home on loan back in my primary school days, it was not obvious to me where one should begin. For the first few weeks I sort of muddled through, moving piles of debris from one part of the plot to another in an attempt to look busy, to look like I knew what I was doing. In fact, the first job of any real substance I undertook was to paint the shed. One evening, after work, with the sun a bit too close to setting than was ideal I turned up with paint pot and brush. “Are you here to do the night shift?” enquired my plot neighbour. I worked quickly taking great pleasure watching my shed turn from Bubble Gum Pink to Willow Green. That for me marked a turning point. At last, I could see the plot’s potential.
Over the next couple of weeks I tackled the raised beds, cleared away the weeds before laying new paths using woodchips delivered for free by a local tree surgeon. One of my fellow allotmenteers removed the waterlogged grass from my main path, and later, very kindly set to work with the site’s chairman to glaze my greenhouse. I will be forever grateful! Then, after raking the soil to as fine a tilth as my patience would permit, I began planting in earnest: potatoes, beets, spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, sweetcorn, squash, radish and lettuce. And voila! Come early May, a mere four weeks into my venture, my plot was totally transformed.
As the growing season was already underway I didn’t have time to plan where I was going to put things. I simply made a series of snap decisions and hoped for the best. However, when it came to my flower borders I had to be a bit more considered. Not only was it essential to make them look attractive for visiting members of the public and the local Lord Mayor, but it was also necessary to bear in mind that, at some point, the RHS judge would be casting his/her keen eyes over the plot.
Well, I say I was more considered in deciding on the design of the flower borders, but in truth, it was really only the back of the borders for which I had any semblance of a plan. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was more of a vision than a plan – one that had begun germinating in my mind’s eye a few months before I was handed the keys to my plot… Sweet Peas. And lots of them. Tall, rambling sweet peas festooned with masses of fragrant blooms were to rise up at the back of the borders on either side of my main path so as to create a sort of splendid symmetry. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to bring said vision to fruition, mind you. (But that’s a whole other blog).
As for the remainder of my two flower borders, in the end I shoved in anything I could get hold of – gifted and shop-bought perennials were planted here and there without any real sense of their eventual spatial dimensions let alone their colour and texture. In retrospect, it was not my best move. But in the height of summer, when the result of my early haphazardness was laid bare for all to see, I set about plugging the gaps with established, colour- coordinated annuals. Job done. The overcrowded areas within the borders, however, where plants grappled with other plants for growing space, were a bit more problematic. And yes, by late summer, right when the RHS judge was doing the rounds and my sweet peas were no longer at their best (‘Whither is fled the visionary gleam?’), there was far more pink in the borders than I would have liked. But none of that mattered when, much to my surprise, I scooped the joint third prize for best flower border!
Of course, it’s not winning a prize that matters (although it does help). I had one of the best summers of my adult life on that plot last year. There were so many moments of tranquillity and contentment – just me, the birdsong and all this green magic. And if that wasn’t enough, there were a good few months throughout the summer when I could fill my fridge week in, week out with the freshest, best-tasting produce. Even my social life took off – the new community of like-minded souls came bearing gifts of homegrown goodies. There were event days when we threw open the gates to the masses and evenings when we came together to celebrate the special haven we all worked so hard to create. Friends and family would often descend on my plot for picnics, guided tours and, let’s be honest, a bag full of veggies. Some friends and family members liked the place so much that they threatened to move into my shed and set up house there. My mother was the only one who followed through. Indeed, she put her name down on the waiting list and is now the proud owner of her very own plot. Right behind mine! The allotment, then, became the unlikely place where I felt decidedly content.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and come to an end it did. Rather abruptly. The autumn set in almost overnight bringing with it the mammoth task of chopping down and composting all of the decaying crops. To make matters worse, following my unsuccessful attempt to light a small bonfire (how hard can it be?) I spent the best part of a weekend ferrying binbags of garden waste back and forth to the local tip. It was upsetting to see everything die back and stripped bare. Wooden beds on soil and concrete. Actually, it wasn’t quite so grim as I made a point of planting a few winter greens, perhaps in a desperate bid to prolong the growing season and fend off the winter blues.
In the end, there just wasn’t the time for the melancholy to set in as the plot was coming back to life in December – giving me more things to worry about. I mean, is it normal for the spring bulbs to be putting up shoots before we’ve even got Christmas out of the way? Is it natural for the rhubarb crown to be greening in the ground on New Years’ Day? You see, this is why we need the BBC to airGardener’s World all year round!
,Fast forward to April 2019 and the second season of my allotment adventure is well and truly underway. I no longer have to scrutinise the ground for signs of life as my plot is positively teeming with it. I’m running out of room in the greenhouse, and the plants in the cold frame are getting so big they’re pushing up the lid. My fellow plotters are back, too – heads down, backsides in the air. It’s all go.
It’s a funny thing this allotment malarkey. I’ve heard it said than when it gets a hold of you, there’s no going back. Sometimes, when I’m last out, I make a point of taking a minute to look through the gates as I’m locking up. There’s just me, the sunset and the birdsong. In those moments I’m reminded all over again of the evening when I first stumbled across the beautiful secret garden.
It’s my second year on the plot and so I thought it was about time I started a blog. You can expect to find some gardening advice, perhaps a recipe or two. But mostly I plan to write posts that reflect the sheer joy of allotmenteering, because let’s face it, we don’t just do this for the produce alone.