Tuesday, 20 August 2013


I have wasted a whole summer doing someone else's garden. OK, I needed the money, and I will still find it hard to manage without it, but meanwhile my own two allotments have gone to rack and ruin while I have been wasting energy, time and electricity pruning bloody bushes, which only grow again, and look ugly anyway. Is there anything so useless as an ornamental bush that doesn't even have beautiful flowers like an apple tree or a hawthorn? Or as tubs of bizzy lizzies when you could have snapdragons and hollyhocks? Still, I've given in my notice now, and have approx. two months to get both my allotments cleared and dug over and ready for the winter. I am ashamed of the state of them.

Friday, 26 April 2013


Spadey came into the shop today when I was there with Eric and Tim. Without stopping to greet us, he said, "Who's doing the allotment now, then?" I looked sheepish and said, "Me", to which he riposted, "I thought it was under consideration!". "Well, someone had to do it!" I said, and before anyone could discuss it further, he stormed out, saying it was "disgusting".

Spadey (sometimes known as "Spade-hands", one can only imagine why) had the Lechlade allotment last year. Before him an old Lechlade man had had it forever, since the days of clay pipes probably. Spadey did a good job on it, but he left the shop under a cloud in August. He used to have a big unit there, but he thought the shop was going bust, so he left in a very unpleasant way. He wouldn't be able to have his unit back, so God knows why he thinks he would be allowed to have the garden back. Trouble is, he probably blames me for the fact that he can't have it back, and probably thinks I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Whereas in fact, I only asked if I could have it about a month ago, and then because I knew Spadey wouldn't be allowed to have it and I couldn't bear to see it go to rack and ruin.

Even more spuds!

Planted a long long row of Jersey Royals on the Lechlade allotment today. I only had a couple of hours, and rain interrupted my work half way through, but I got it done. One more row to get in on Tuesday, the Lechlade Desirees, then I'll be done.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

John mowed the path

Old John came out today to mow Big John's lawn and the paths. He looked terrible. His hair was long and awry. His clothes were scruffy - he was wearing an old pair of jogging bottoms - and he had ink from a ballpoint staining his breast pocket.

He has a splendid petrol mower, but he could barely hang on to it. He managed to do Big John's lawn, then set off down the path, the mower almost running away with him. It ground to a halt near the end of the path, and he stopped to empty the grass holder. I said I could use the grass on the allotment. I'd just been digging a particularly clayey, rock hard bit, and had only just been thinking it needed lots of organic matter in there.

I emptied the grass holder, but he couldn't start the mower again. He wore himself out pulling the string to start it. I didn't dare offer to help. I'd already offered to mow the paths but he said he didn't want anyone else using the mower because it was "temperamental". I'd also offered to move the table and chairs off the lawn, but he'd said he could manage, though I saw him struggling with the wooden table.

He came back up the path muttering that "it must be flooded", which saved me saying it. I had decided not to because women aren't supposed to know things like that and he would've felt insulted if he thought I thought I knew better than him what was wrong with it, just as he would've been insulted if I'd been able to start it and he hadn't or I'd been able to pick up the table and he hadn't. Such are the ridiculous considerations women have to make with old-fashioned men like John if they care about them and want to protect their pride. I wouldn't have bothered with anyone younger.

The mower stalled twice more, and each time John pushed it laboriously back into his garden by his door. He obviously didn't feel safe leaving it on the allotment, even though I was there to keep an eye on it. After the last time, he drove it back to his garden and disappeared. After a while I put the garden furniture back on Big John's lawn. Old John had said he had two more bags of grass he'd already mown from his own lawn, but I knew I wasn't going to get them today, nor the last hopper full of grass he'd mown from the path. The whole episode made me feel very young, strong and healthy. I forgot to ask after Joan. I'd better ask Big John first, I think.

Joan's flower garden

I started tidying up Joan's flower garden yesterday. It is the patch up the top of my Swindon allotment, and when John and Joan had the allotment, it was her flower garden, and looked lovely. However, now it is overgrown with couch grass, and not many flowers have survived. There is one rose bush, some large daisies (chrysanthemums?), bluebells, lily-of-the-valley, some bluey geranium-type flowers, and a rhubarb plant, plus the fruit bushes I put in recently. After I got the allotment last year, Big John reported that John had asked him repeatedly when I was going to clear Joan's flower garden. It is the piece of ground nearest to their immaculate lawn, so looks terrible from their window. But it is going to take a lot of work to clear all the couch from it.

Yet more spuds

Planted another two rows of Charlotte potatoes on my Swindon allotment. I still have enough for more rows, but think it may be better to save some space for something else. After all, these spuds must be eaten when just dug, and even in my wildest dreams I couldn't eat that many myself, nor find enough people to give them to. The perpetual spinach and radish are coming up already, so I've watered them both and given the radish a sprinkling of Derris dust, as the flea beetle is on them already. I must buy some slug pellets to sprinkle round them too.

Derris is now banned, I don't know why, but I still have about half a canister left.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The primrose path

The pathway to the allotment runs along the side of the shop (in the distance on the right), then beside someone else's cottage and garden (on the right). So far I have seen no-one there at all. The path is lined with primroses at the moment, and is incredibly beautiful. I feel so lucky to be there.

Besides this, the path is sprinkled with daisies, and beside the path here are periwinkles (Vinca minor). It is an idyllic place to be, even despite the traffic roaring past on the road beneath the wall.

Four hours, contd.

After lunch, I surface-weeded the bit below the row of onions I put in last week, and put in a long row of shallots. They were already growing in the allotment, left over from last year: I simply dug them up, divided them, and re-planted them. They might come to nothing, but if they are successful, I've got a crop of shallots for precisely nothing.

Below the shallots, I sowed two rows of Boltardy beetroot, and two rows of Perpetual Spinach/Leaf Beet. Then I called it a day. I was very parsimonious with the beetroot and spinach seeds, putting them in singly three inches apart. Each packet only cost 60p, but now I'm beginning to see the logic of Joe's insistance on saving seed and being very mean with it. Each beet "seed" is in fact a cluster of seeds, and will produce several seedlings, and if they grow three inches apart, that gives baby beet for weeding out and eating young, and mature beet for pickling.

Four hours on the Lechlade allotment

I spent four hours on the Lechlade allotment today, in beautiful sunny weather, trying to get as much done as possible. First, I cleared a patch by the wall, and planted some near-dead strawberry plants that I'd rescued from Big John's allotment in Swindon. He'd hacked up a patch of them beside the fence because he wants to extend his lawn across both his allotments. I think it was a terrible waste, but not everybody loves strawberries as much as I do.
I then started planting potatoes. I'd brought in that cardboard box about half-full of seed Charlotte potatoes. I planted two rows before giving up. It was terribly hard work. First I had to clear the surface weeds, then I had to hack holes deep enough. I started off by hacking trenches with my Man Hoe (that's what I call it: it's a mattock, or Italian hoe, a zappa). I call it a Man Hoe because it is so big, and I resort to it when all else fails. It is usually "man enough for the job" (NB. irony alert!).
This job was done in fairly hot sunshine, and I am aching now and will probably be unable to move tomorrow morning. Nevertheless, I got two long rows in, so nobody is going to go short of new potatoes this summer. I have brought the rest of the Charlottes home and will plant them in my Swindon allotment. I still have a row of Jersey Royals and a row of Desiree to plant at Lechlade.
(The basket, by the way, is courtesy of Jim in the shop. He describes them as French, and they may well be. He chucked my two out because they were broken, but they're still good enough for carrying weeds).
After that and a long sit down in the shade with a bottle of water, I started on the easier work (the chair is a shop reject as well).

More spuds

I put in a row of Charlottes in the Swindon allotment, just to give variety. I've saved the rest of the box for Lechlade, where I'm going today.

Had to remonstrate with some people about having a dog off the lead on their Swindon allotment. They were quite civilised about it though (they know me of old), and put him on a lead. You can't have dogs running around on allotments when people have just put their seed in.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Getting on reluctantly with the Swindon allotment

I went rather reluctantly down the Swindon allotment this afternoon.

After the pleasure of the beautiful surroundings and heavenly soil of the Lechlade one, my heart wasn't really in it. But I managed to build up a bit of enthusiasm while I worked, though it didn't help having two men from the Salvation Army on the allotment next door. Not that they spoke to me, but I didn't feel relaxed with them around. One of them was an old hand, and he was telling his new helper all about the plot. In fact, they spent most of the time talking, and very little time working.

I put in the two rows of Stuttgarter onions that I bought this morning, then decided to fill up the space down the bottom with the seeds I had left. So I put in another row of parsnips interspersed with radish, a row of beetroot, and about three-quarters of a row of Maestro carrots, finishing off the row with cut-and-come-again lettuce. I prepared the ground in the same way as I did that at Lechlade, but surface weeding only. It is too late to waste time digging: everything has to go in, and fast.

I started digging over the weedy patch up the top,
but the soil is so heavy and wet compared with that at Lechlade, I gave up after two rows, wondering what I was achieving by simply turning it over. I wish Nobby had rotovated that bit too, but I can't go on asking him for favours.

It's quite amazing how far you can make seed stretch when you try. I got two rows out of a 60p packet of beetroot seed. I must go to Wilkinson for more seeds next week.

When I was looking for the owner of the chickens that escaped I talked to a man who offered me a whole box full of seed potatoes (Charlotte). So now I can plant loads both here and at Lechlade, and won't have to buy any more earlies, though I might buy some more maincrops for Lechlade, something different from the Desirees.

The chicken whisperer

Four chickens escaped from their hut and were seen having the time of their lives pecking the soil around this man while he was digging.
I was on my way home, but I had to make sure the chickens were safe, so I went back and got Nick, who, with Taffy, had about thirty chickens in a big run on their allotment. Nick came and caught them and put them back. How he caught them was by stalking them till he was within pouncing distance, then grabbing their tail, picking them up, then holding them upside-down by their legs.
He put them back in their hut, which he said was "the Geordie's". Apparently it was the Geordie who caused all that trouble a couple of years ago. Nick said he was a thief, and stole his and Taffy's chicken feed, and he didn't look after his chickens properly. It was he who had left them without water, which was when Taffy "stole" them and put them in his own run and said he wouldn't give them back unless the Geordie promised to look after them properly.
I don't know this man's name, or what plot number he is on. It's down the bottom. This is the second year he's been on it.
Nick says he sold his chickens and now has only got three bantams left "for the kids". He said the price of chicken feed went up and he was only just breaking even selling his eggs, and it wasn't worht all the work, especially coming down twice a day in winter in the snow.


There are still seed potatoes and onion sets in Argyll Street Garden Centre. I managed to get a couple of rows each of International Kidney (Jersey Royals) and Desiree and a row of Stuttgarter onion sets for £2.65.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Raspberry canes

The raspberry canes I put in at Lechlade have taken well.

I made a good start on my Lechlade allotment today...

...though it doesn't look it from the photos. I put in a double row of broad beans in front of the runner bean poles. They are longpods which should go in in November, and were saved either last year or the year before, so it will be a big bonus if they come up and I get a good crop off them.
Further down, I put in a row of onions (Sturon, I think). The beans and onions were put in ground which had not been dug, just cleared of surface weeds. Broad beans and onions like hard ground, so do sprouts and purple sprouting, so I will save some hard ground for them too.
Down the bottom, I put in my two remaining Jersey Royals, which are to be treasured like golden eggs. On the same line, I put in two very short rows of cut-and-come-again lettuce and radish. Eventually, I shall put my pumpkins and butternut squash or maybe some nasturtiums down that end so that they can scramble all over the pile of rubbish down the end and hide it. There's time for a catch-crop of lettuce and radish meanwhile.
The soil is beautiful and black and light and crumbly, but it is full of stones and of bits of pottery and broken clay pipes and glass. Spadey tried parsnips in there last year, but they came to nothing at all. Parsnips don't like even the tiniest stones: even sharp sand added to the soil makes them grow all forked and gnarly. My soil in Swindon is great for parsnips, so I'll grow them there. It is useful to have two types of soil to choose from: this will be good for onions, I should think.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Potting started

Today I started sowing seeds in pots to put in the mini-greenhouse outside my house. I sowed pumpkin (probably too soon), Gardener's Delight tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, purple-sprouting broccoli, Bedford Brussels sprouts, and a half-tray of basil. The Italians grow rows of basil. Joe puts it in with his tomatoes when bottling them.

The potting compost I used was dreadful - Tesco's Cheapest - I had to crumble every handful before using it, and it was full of great fibrous lumps.

I've still got a lot of potting to do, but I will leave the courgettes and cucumbers till a bit later.

Spuds in

Yesterday I planted two rows of Desiree potatoes on my Swindon allotment. I need to source more seed potatoes to plant in Lechlade. It took me about 15 minutes, then Big John arrived and we spent the rest of the hour sitting in the sunshine talking.

Nobby arrive while we were talking and I had the chance to thank him in person for rotovating my allotment.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A setback

Dom said he can't rotovate the Lechlade allotment after all. Very disappointed. Will have to think of something else now, and time's running out.

Sunday, 14 April 2013


I was up at five to go to the car boots, and at six dropped off Nobby's cake at the allotment for him to pick up later in the morning. I left it in his lean-to.

Later I got a couple of emails from him: "I picked up the cake. How shall I get the tin back to you?" and "What do I have to do for you to make me another?"

Friday, 12 April 2013

Plants which remind you of people, contd.

Today I planted a long row of raspberry canes at the Lechlade allotment. They may not produce anything this year, but next year there'll be a bumper crop. The ancestors of these canes were given to me by Shirley three years ago in deep November, and I was astonished that they survived having their ankles in soaking wet clay over the winter. The year before last they started producing, and last year they really started to come on song. The jam made with fresh raspberries is incomparable.

I though of Shirley as I was planting them, and of how pleased she would be to hear about it.

I also planted the rhubarb plant at one end of the row of raspberries and an asparagus plant at the other end. The rhubarb plant was given me by the nice Dutch lady who used to keep Indian running ducks and other fowl on her allotment, but was driven away by a combination of the alleged nastiness of Deanna (I think it was Taffy who alleged it, so it probably is fictional) and the thieving that was going on. Oh, no, I remember - (this is what I was told by someone else anyway) (was it even about them?) - apparently, the young lad who used to cycle in to feed the ducks had left them without food or water one day, so Taffy or his son took the fowl and said that if it ever happened again they wouldn't give them back. Oh dear, you can see how confused the story has got in the memory and the re-telling.  Anyway, when she gave up, the Dutch lady gave me that rhubarb plant.

The artichokes will remind me of Joe and Angelo. In the end, they were Joe's plants, which I dug up last year and planted on my old allotment, but which I hadn't yet got a crop from. But it reminded me of a time really early on when I was on the Salvation Army allotment when I must have been talking to Angelo about having some plants, but it was Joe who gave me some (which incidentally didn't survive), and Angelo, coming along later, said, "Oh, are my plants not good enough then?"

At Lechlade, I also established my water butt next to the compost heap, and put some bricks in the bottom to stop it blowing away or being easily stolen. You never know. The last thing I did was plant some tiny marjoram plants that I'd salvaged from my own allotment. They will in time grow massive and provide lots of nectar for the bees. The strawberry plants I put in last week have already picked up and are thriving.

Dom said he had forgotten about rotovating the allotment, because his father-in-law had died and the funeral was next week, but he would bring the rotovator in on Monday and start it off for me and "watch it run away with me" before going off to do something else.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The sun almost came out

I went down the allotment in the rain because I just had to dig up some raspberry canes from my old allotment to take to Lechlade tomorrow. If I left it any longer, a new plot-holder might appear. It stopped raining when I got there and the sun almost came out. I dug the canes, then looked to see whether there was anything else I could salvage from that plot. I ended up with quite a lot of bamboo canes - mostly medium size, to take to Lechlade to stake tomatoes, a rhubarb plant, some artichoke plants, a water butt (vital in Lechlade because the only water is in the shop, and you can't get a watering can under the tap because the sink is too shallow), and a small table which I originally thought might do for when I stop work and sit down in the shade with my jug of iced lemonade - I've since decided to use it in my next window display there, but I can put it in the garden afterwards.

This took quite a while, but I still found the time and energy to put in three rows of seeds: Boltardy beetroot, Maestro carrots, and Tender and True parsnips. I always put the parsnip seeds in a few every 8 inches, with radish in between to mark the row while waiting for the parsnips to show themselves. I put in a few Little Gem lettuce between the parsnips too - I can move the seedlings later. I don't like wasting whole rows on lettuce or radish: the radishes will be used quickly and leave a gap which could've been used for something more long-lasting, and you only need about a foot of lettuce seedlings to keep you in lettuce plants for months.

I put these in in the bottom end of the allotment, which had been rotovated last year and is now very soft and friable and fairly weed-free. I will use the bit that has been rotovated recently for bigger plants: sweetcorn, tomatoes, marrow family.

I am trying to be parsimonious with my seeds so that I can save some for Lechlade. I only bought enough for one allotment. But I have a lot of old packets of seeds that are out of date but might grow anyway, so I will use them up in Lechlade. Now I have to find my pots at the bottom of the pile of rubbish in John's shed and get on with sowing the tomatoes and corn and cucumbers. Normally they are already coming up by now, but it's been far too cold to put anything in the mini-greenhouse outside the flat. It's finally warm enough now.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

In memory of Angelo

Angelo died during the winter. He was a lovely bloke, who never stopped telling me how to do things. Joe was very unforthcoming about it. Domenico told me when I met him in town one day, but if he hadn't, Joe would probably have said nothing. Now, Joe is working all three allotments, his two (plots 56 and 58) and Angelo's (plot 57). He says he will give up the one next to my old allotment, but it looks as if he won't give it up until October at the earliest, when the rent falls due. Even though Angelo couldn't do any work by last October, and Joe had kept his allotment more or less tended and planted, Angelo still told him he wanted to keep it on. For these old Italians, growing food is in the blood and they will carry on until they drop.

I loved Angelo. I have the grapevine he gave me to remind me of him. He gave me it when it was only two or three feet high; now it's a monster and has spread all over the front of my house, and last year I got about twelve bunches of small, purple grapes off it. One day I'll make wine from it in memory of Angelo.

In gardening, everything takes twice as long as you think

Today was warm enough to take my jacket off while digging, though I had to put it on again for weeding. I didn't achieve much today, but Vieve's rule of gardening is that everything always takes twice as long as you think it will. First, I brought over some artichoke plants from my old allotment and divided them and planted a row at the bottom of the allotment near the path. Then I transplanted two blackcurrant bushes and one redcurrant bush from the old allotment (between them they only had about 8 berries on last year). I'd brought over the rest of the compost I made last year. It was a bit stalky but better than nowt - no time to source some manure to put in the holes, nor even to clear the weeds around them very much. Lastly, I weeded a strip near the strawberries on my hands and knees using a hand fork, and sowed a row of perpetual spinach in it. The bit between the strawberries and the raspberry canes is the only bit not rotovated, and though it doesn't look too bad it is full of little plantains with fiercely strong root systems that are the devil to get out. This was where I planned to sow all my roots and saladings, but I think I shall have to rethink that plan.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A start at last

Last year was a terrible year because of the rain, and so far, this year hasn't been good because of the cold, but at last yesterday I made a start on one of my new allotments. On Pickards Field, I have moved from plot 59 to a smaller plot, no. 78. This was Old John's plot, but he is now too decrepit to work it, and Big John spent a lot of time last year keeping it up together for Old John. As Big John has two plots of his own, and has had umpteen heart attacks, he didn't want to have to do the same this year, so when he heard that I wanted to move from plot 59, he asked Old John if he'd consider handing the plot on to me. I got to know Old John well when I worked the Salvation Army plot, no. 77, and he knew that I'm a good gardener, so he agreed to let me inherit his plot. He said he would only give it up if I took it on. We went to the Council last year and signed all the papers. Since then, I'd only had time to transplant some raspberry canes and strawberry plants and sow some broad beans before winter set in, but someone rotovated about half of it for me in the autumn, and Nobby rotovated another quarter this week, so I've been able to start planting and sowing now without having to spend hours digging. Yesterday was just about the first nice day of the year, so I was able to put in a double row of spring-sown broad beans (Windsors), a row of Kelvedon Wonder peas (from saved seed), and a row of Jersey Royals (International Kidney) potatoes. I salvaged some compost from my old allotment (which no-one has taken on yet) to put in the potato trench and to put in the compost bin to get it going.

My other new plot is in Lechlade. The owner of the Antiques Centre, where I have a unit, owns the plot. It was cultivated by an old man who gave it up two years ago and died last year. Last year it was cultivated by an antiques dealer, who has since left the shop. It is in a sheltered, sunny spot and the soil is light and well-drained. Another of the antiques dealers has a rotovator and is going to rotovate the plot for me next week, so I'm feeling very lucky. His son helped me plant some strawberry plants on Friday, and I also transplanted a near-dead sage plant from my old allotment.