Time to say goodbye

I can’t remember when I took on my allotment. I know I applied for one when we first moved to Bradford on Avon and I waited nearly three years on the ‘list’ so it must have been ten years ago, judging by these photos of the children with their allotment beds. 







After months of clearing brambles, weeds and even mounds of rubbish which had been buried and covered with old carpet I started to grow potatoes to break up the soil and planted some raspberry canes, strawberries, gooseberries, currants and rhubarb. Gradually I laid some wood chip paths, built a double compost bin from recycled wood and installed some raised beds. I collected dozens of green wine bottles which I used to edge the long cut flower bed and planted herbs and foliage plants to add to cut flower bouquets but I never really tamed it.  It was always on the edge of getting out of control as I fought back the encroaching brambles, the council hedge which was rarely trimmed as resources were cut and the huge diseased horse chestnut trees and hedge on the edge of the neighbouring municipal golf course, which never were.

I have spent hundreds of hours on the allotment with the children when they were small and working alone as they got older and gardening became less interesting for them. They even coined the phrase ‘allotment time’ to describe my propensity for nipping over there for half an hour and coming back four hours later. Best of all I have fed my family with homegrown produce and grown hundreds of my favourite flowers for cutting.

In truth I have a difficult relationship with my allotment. I loathe the inaccessibility when it’s time to mulch with compost or manure, the lack of water – no standpipe and regulations preventing putting up a shed from which I could harvest rainwater, the visiting badger who is determined to dig up bulbs as soon as they are planted and knows exactly when the sweetcorn is ripe enough to eat and the occasional thieves who pop in and help themselves to whatever they fancy. I’m not too keen on the person who regularly allows their dog to defecate in front of the gate and doesn’t pick it up. But I love the space to grow, to be alone with my thoughts only two minutes’ walk from home and the memories of the children growing up playing archaeologists and then learning to grow things over ten years.And the herbs grow better on the allotment than in the garden.

I have nurtured this little piece of Bradford on Avon for a long time but everything has its season and returning to the classroom has given me even less time to spend on growing. I need a space i can pop out to for ten minutes before leaving for work or whilst the supper is cooking and , in all honesty, it won’t be long before the children fly the nest and I want to make the most of the years we have left. I’ve put in two potager beds in the garden now that it no longer serves as a football pitch and so the time is right to let the allotment go.

Over the last few months I’ll admit that I have struggled with this. I thought about looking for a partner to share the allotment but that didn’t seem quite right and now that I’ve made the decision to give it up I am at peace. I remain true to my precept of always leaving a place better than I found it. I hope the next keeper of plot 2b has as much joy as I have over there. I’m even a little excited to see how it develops in someone else’s hands.

The best of both worlds….

view from the allotment over fields 001Last Monday I was watering on the plot to the sound of church bells as the bellringers held their regular practice session. This week I am listening to the bailer as it makes its way around the fields of the nearby estate. I am so lucky in being able to rent a plot with such fabulous views.

bath june09 003I am also fortunate to be able to divide my working week between gardening and teaching. And so the earlier part of today was spent in Bath,which meant I could spend half an hour browsing in the bookshop and grabbing a sandwich to eat  here.bath june09 010

And there was still time to get back to pick the apprentices up from school before we headed over to the allotment for a bit of pre-dinner weeding.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be back in my wellies for a spot of planting in the Children’s Centre garden and putting up their hanging baskets. I love my job.

Digging up the lawn isn’t the only option


What a great day it was when I read that Michelle Obama plans to dig up 100sqm of the Whitehouse lawn so that her family can eat what they grow and send a positive message out to the world that growing vegetables promotes community, responsibility and health. Of course all veg growers and allotmenteers knew this already but it often takes someone in the public eye to hammer the message home.

For those who don’t have the advantage of a huge greensward then there are a variety of options open to you.

  • You can sign up for an allotment. Many are run by local councils and waiting lists can be unbearably long however the rent is usually very low.
  • Failing that then there may be people in your community with gardens which are too big. In return for a share of your home grown harvest they might be prepared to let you do your thing on their land. The Landshare initiative is a national project backed by Hugh and the team at River Cottage to help people find suitable crop growing land.
  • Some communities (my own included) have really taken ‘growing your own’ on board in a big way and community agriculture schemes and community smallholdings are beginning to spring up. Getting involved in something like this is a great way to kick start your growing habit.
  • Try utilising the space you have and plant up containers on windowsills, patios or roof terraces. Think carefully about the aspect of your site, for instance roof gardens  usually need some protection in the form of wind breaks. Choose your containers carefully. Some plants need space to put down long roots and don’t forget that containers need watering more frequently than a garden bed. Try a bit of companion planting  in containers to give your crops every chance of success. Basil planted with tomatoes aids the growth of the toms and keeps the pests at bay, for instance. This week at the school gardening club we planted potatoes in bags and next Monday we’ll be sowing our peas in some guttering. Actually guttering is the perfect shape for all sorts of windowledge growing, holding the soil in just the right place and allowing you to slip the growing seedlings undisturbed into a trench in the ground.

Bramble jam…

before the brambles were no more

I don’t mind the odd bramble as I am particularly fond of blackberry jam.  But this week bramble jam has seemed somewhat less attractive.. It has been one of those frustratingly unproductive weeks that crop up from time to time. Last Saturday after spending a couple of hours hanging around a football pitch, one of the prerequisites of the mother with sporty sons, I headed over to the new plot for an afternoon’s clearing. The aim was to clear away a mass of dead brambles and expose the boundary of our plot (See picture). Three hours later I smugly headed home in the drizzle leaving a large bonfire pile to be lit later in the week. Reader – do not be smug!

Two days later I was the chastened owner of a massive packet of part-consumed antibiotics and a leg that would do justice to a sunburnt elephant….despite jeans, boots and gloves of industrial thickness. Ho hum – the best laid plans and all that!

So not a lot of  gardening this week, although one of the apprentices received fab half-size gardening tools for his birthday and we still managed our long-awaited trip to see Oliver!  A day in London is a treat and does wonders for those of us who tend to take the countryside for granted.

The enforced rest has given me time to potter a bit in the garden and find a site for the arrival of our hens. I swopped some raspberry canes (Autumn Bliss) which were superfluous to needs for a tray of seedlings and have at long last sowed my sweet peas. I have a huge selection this year including Daphne, Terry Wogan, Rhapsody, Miss Willmott and Chalie’s Angel. I’ve got my hands on some root trainers for the first time so we’ll see if they make any difference from the usual cardboard tubes.

Who knows? The bonfire might happen tomorrow – although gardening with the aid of a stick is not a good look for a woman of my middle-aged years!!

Garden alchemy – turning ‘straw’ into ‘gold’

New plot - the start

Feast your eyes on my new plot. What can you see?  The bramble patch and  the abundance of couch grass? The derelict picnic bench perhaps? Or is your sinking heart thinking about the hours of back-breaking digging that lie ahead?

I can  see the potential for this……..

New plot - the finish

Watch this space.

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