Almost 10 years ago I took on a rather weedy overgrown allotment plot, no.25. It’s down at the bottom of the plot of about 100 allotments. Shaded until around 11am by a huge hawthorn hedge the council never seem to cut back at the top, so on the sides it is thin and gappy. I inherited a jauntily angled shed a large unruly Lilac bush (Tree more like) and that was it. One almost invisible neighbor on the left but no one on the right. Since then I have taken over from the left hand neighbour and a new neighbour has taken on the plots either side of me.
I started off as with many new plot owners trying to do too much too fast without understanding the longer term input crops would need nor the basic infrastructure that would be required – water buts (several), compost heaps (at least two), hoses, watering cans. In the first year I grew so much veg I didn’t know what to do with it all, carried along by the excitement of planting a row of 10 runner beans I didn’t think what that would mean in terms of yeild. It meant far far far to many beans for me and my family and friends, even other plot holders because EVERYONE grows runners. I stopped growing runner beans a few years ago and now trade bunches of flowers or some juicy salad tomatoes in various colours with neighbours for runners if I want some. I started growing bush french beans because the site is so windy as often as not I would arrive to find the bean pole staking, covered in beany foliage had caught the wind like a veritable sail and lurched to one side either ripping plants from the ground or allowing precious crops to tip onto the ground. No amount of anchoring or setting deep seems to affect the tug of the south westerly.
I started a collection of Iris, in my second year and along with a friend dug out 8 large beds to house them. At the time the plant heritage rules were 3 plants per cultivar which seems like not much but in 3 years each plant makes another 15-20 which causes issues at division time when you have over 100 varieties! Our first year of dividing we had over 700 ‘spares’.
Two years ago I stopped collecting and downsized the number of plants I was holding from 3 to 1 in most cases, there have been a few casualties which is sad as I have been (am) the only UK holder of many of these cultivars. This year the final move is happening, we built new raised beds, with support from a wonderful client who’s handyman came to actually build them. We amended the soils to more gritty and less fertile, bark chipped paths and dug dug dug those irises from old beds to new, dividing as we went.
Another event last year has affected the Iris, which is plant passporting. A good plan for the security of our historical and everyday gardens but also a limiting factor for tiny growers and breeders in selling their plants. The costs for registration and consequent passporting are prohibitive unless you’re a full blown full time nursery. It’s goodbye to the local plant fairs with seedlings and young plants from keen local amateurs.
So plot no.25 is, in the main, perennial, a small orchard installed of unsual fruit, Mulberries (7 years to fruiting but worth it), Greengage (3 years in, no fruit), Tomcot (3 years in 2 fruit – bloomin frosts), an erratic Discovery apple (feast to famine to feast) and a small Almond that is not totally sure it likes it but hasn’t died quite yet! Also on no.25 are the raspberries, blackberries, a large rhubarb, all 3 currant colours and some rogue purple gooseberries as well as a host of perennial herbaceous plants, the iris nursery for my hybrids and an overflow dahlia bed.
I can’t quite remember when I took over Plot 24, the very tidy neighbour suddenly left and it became VERY untidy very fast – all that rotavating chops up perennial weed roots. I was moving house at the time and wanted a holding bed, or two, for the plants I wanted to keep. I covered half the plot with black terram – I learnt my lesson about taking on too much all at once! – and quickly dug out beds to hold the transplants. I am still gardenless at home which I find hard. No.24 is currently half dahlia bed (18m*5m) this year the plan was to increase to about 2/3rds (25*5m) of the plot with 5*5 of other cutting foliage and flowers, a 5*5m bed of veggies and the rest taken up with more fruit trees (Quince and 2 pears) and a very fine set of green gooseberry bushes as well as compost bins and more water butts. In the autumn I moved the whole transplant perennial garden out of ‘garden’ mode i.e combinations of plants, into ‘cutting garden’ mode i.e. lines of everything. A lot of work but will but down on maintenance and make the plots more productive and less weedy. The more ground cover the fewer the weeds.
My plan changed about 2 weeks ago, I am a classic ‘grow what you love’ and can’t buy (mulberries, currants yakon etc) buy what you need and is cheap from the supermarkets (carrots, spuds, etc). Now I will be reiging back Dahlia Nation to add several large beds of spuds, carrots and brassicas becasue who knows what’s coming and I would like to be able to make practical use of my skills and the space I have to feed me (better) and donate any excess, there is always excess.
I try to recycle as much as possible within the plots is the challenge, composting in plastic bins and a rough built pallet bin but also doing ‘chop and drop’ in some areas – herbaceous perennials mostly. A large set of damsons came down about 4 years ago and we stacked the chunks of wood into a huge pile and have allowed it to rot down steadily, making homes for all sorts of wildlife. It makes great edging for trees to retain annual mulches and eventually will rot away into the soil to feed that and improve the texture. Bark chip paths do much the same though 2 years is about their maximum life.
I use organic feeds, home grown comfrey and organic liquid seaweed, as well as as much well rotted manure and straw as I can lay my hands on. I’d really like a ton or three of Lakeland Gold every year but that’s another story (budgetary restraint!). The soil has improved somewhat and is alive with invertebrates which bodes well for it’s health. There are all sorts of small mammals who visit frogs, mice, beetles, birds, the occasional dragonfly to the neighbours pond and damsel flies hovering on the bucket of water that lives by the grape vine all last summer.
It’s been a very wet windy winter, every gardener I know has been battling the elements, head down, wet weather gear on, stoic by nature most of us, even the fair weather ones (that would be me!). I am hoping for a long Spring, a warm summer, spectacular autumn and FREEZING winter – natures way off seeing of pests and diseases. I am hoping, along with millions of others for the health and safety of family and friends and the safe return to some level of normalcy for all.
But whatever we get I will be growing new things and old things and as ever too many things.
I will be posting more regularly about growing, with prompts to plant and start seeds which I hope will be helpful and get more people growing.