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Parish Councils and Allotment Requests

July 21, 2014

Three years ago a number of people living in Harbertonford in Devon got together and approached the parish council to help them find an allotment site. When six or more council tax payers make a request to acquire land for such an endeavour the parish council is obliged to help. Land owners were contacted and a farmer agreed to rent out one of his fields. Within months the native hedges were trimmed and layered and the field was ploughed, limed and harrowed. DSCF5581 (2) Twenty plots were marked out some to be offered as full size others as half size, sheds were erected and a water supply plumbed. Three years later the field is fully occupied with twenty or so dedicated allotment growers and several more on a waiting list. DSCF9407


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DSCN2986   The plots are bursting with healthy produce and below is the magical view of the verdant Devon landscape surrounding the field…DSCN2990

At an open day last weekend  Sue Deakin’s bold prints of vegetables were on sale in her shed and homemade cakes and tea were enjoyed by the many visitors.


Self-seeded coriander with the flowers as flavoursome as the leaves were on many of the plots….

DSCN2991And the purple flowers of marjoram looked great against the turquoise of this shed…



Back home the allotment sweet peas were in full flower and I picked the first of the runner beans and lots of beetroot and spinach.

Who Needs an Allotment?

July 13, 2014

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In a sunny courtyard garden in the centre of the city these two raised triangular beds measuring 175cms x 175cms x 175cms and 40cms deep are bursting with healthy produce.  Immaculate rows of Red Choi, Mizuna Waido, spring onions, peas, spinach, lettuce and fennel rub shoulders with beetroot, courgette and runner beans. The beans are supported on rustic poles and are positioned along one side to provide dappled shade to one of the beds.  It’s an awesome amount of produce from such a small space and it’s weed free and lusciously healthy.

But of course an allotment offers much greater opportunities. If there’s space a large patch of new potatoes for summer salads can sit along side a late crop of potatoes for Christmas lunch. Rows of onions and garlic, lots of broad beans, runner and borlotti beans, beetroot, salad leaves and Swiss chard etc etc can keep you in produce for many months. And of course there will be space for repeat sowings of most of the above and this will extend the season even longer. There’s usually room for soft fruit such as blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries and late cropping winter squash followed by purple sprouting broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and kale. So allotments offer great opportunities to be self-sufficient for much of the year.  They also provide you with a calm environment to de-stress and a regime that keeps you fit and healthy and they are definitely worth the effort if you have the time and the energy.



Yesterday I picked for supper salad potatoes ‘Charlotte’ planted for their flavour and waxy yellow flesh,  broad beans which I double podded for their bright green interiors and small courgettes which I griddled. This is my favourite  courgette recipe you simply slice them thinly lengthways (the thickness of a pound coin) brush with olive oil then griddle to get the cross hatching colour and flavour.  Sprinkle with sea salt and lemon juice and add chopped herbs-parsley was all I had in the garden here- and it was really delicious.


This week the flowers in a simple glass jar are white cosmos with the green flowers of  Alchemilla mollis.


Small Garden- Big Borders

July 6, 2014



In a neighbour’s garden a winding path takes you through two generous sized borders each measuring about 2.5 metres on either side of the pathway. These large beds allow for a rich variety of plants some of which started flowering in May and now eight weeks on they are full to bursting with shoulder-high perennials and shrubs in full bloom.  Planting this intensely provides an abundance of flowers and yet manages to look totally natural.  Billowing clumps of fennel mingle with roses and are punctuated with the vivid purple flowers of  Salvia guaranitica  …


DSCN2935Lavatera trimestris ‘Silver Cup’  below with its intense deep pink flowers will bloom for many more weeks and is an excellent filler in these mixed borders.


A lovely collection of herbs such as this Origanum golden marjoram with its aromatic leaves edge the path scenting the air as you walk past.



On the allotment the onions and garlic have been lifted to dry in the sun and the beds are now forked over and raked flat. This week I’ll sow more seeds of parsley, rocket, dwarf green kale, beetroot and lettuce. Because of the gorgeous weather I have kept up rather well with weeding and provided I keep up with watering the allotment is within my control and looking abundant at the moment. The leaves on the new potatoes disappeared completely six weeks ago but I forked up a good crop of  ‘Charlotte’ 1st earlies that were sitting deep in the soil and in perfect health.



I love this marigold which I’ve saved seeds from two years running. They were sown in April next to the broad beans and have been flowering for six weeks. They’ll be allowed to run to seed again and in October the seed heads will be collected and saved for next year-very satisfying.

Jam Making

June 30, 2014



French apricots are in the shops this month and an apricot and vanilla recipe using 3lbs of fruit made 3 kilner jars of delicious apricot jam. In front is a pot of ‘nearly’ strawberry jam which I whipped up very fast in a saucepan.  It has a fresh, intense  flavour and keeps in the fridge for five days but can be frozen in small batches to pour over ice-cream. Both recipes come from Diana Henry’s excellent book…



Now is a good time to sow seeds of perennial and biennials to plant out in October ready to flower next spring and early summer. Foxgloves, Canterbury bells, Nigella ‘Love in a Mist’, Hesperis (sweet rocket) and Ammi majus (below) can be sown in trays and then potted on into small pots to build up strong roots before autumn.


On the allotment wallflowers – Fire King chosen for its deep red petals- will be sown over the next week in drills in the cutting bed and thinned.



A row of Lettuce ‘Freckles’  greeted me after five days away…DSCN2904… and the runner beans are flowering and clambering up the supports. There’s been a very steady supply of courgettes from just two plants over the last few weeks. They’ve benefited from a handful of Growmore at the base every now and again so I’m applying the same to the squash plants which are rampaging round the beds.

DSCN2927My favourite cream jug is full of white cosmos and Hydrangea ‘Madame Emile Mouillere’ which has just started to flower.

Good Planting in the Street + Compost Recipe

June 23, 2014

Wandering round the neighbourhood I spotted this gorgeous container of French lavender. The distressed paint on the bucket reflected both the green-grey of the leaves and the soft mauve of the flowers and all blended in beautifully.




Next to it was a crate of Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ which looked magical against the wall of the house…



Further along the street  the scented flowers of a rambling rose R. Bobbie James was cascading over a 2m high stone wall….




On a more mundane level here as promised is the ‘recipe’ for making an activator from the most common garden plants and it guarantees compost in as little as six weeks. It’s based on the method developed by an Irish woman Maye Bruce in 1935 and is derived from the biodynamic technique pioneered by the philosopher and educationalist Rudolf Steiner. I am very excited by the prospect of rich crumbly compost after only six weeks and even better it uses six common herbs and you don’t need to turn the heap.

Mix together the dried leaves of stinging nettles, ground-up dandelion root, the flowers, leaves and stems of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a handful of flowers from chamomile (Chamaemelum)  plus the ground-up root of  valerian (Valeriana officinalis) in roughly equal quantities. Add one teaspoonful of the dry material to a pint of water and add 2 drops of honey then pour this mixture over your compost.


I had to wait for the chamomile to be in flower and I used a perennial yarrow  Achillea ‘Moonshine’ from the garden here rather than the wild one found in the countryside. I will report back in six weeks but above is the before picture.


The sweet peas are in full bloom on the allotment with a very sweet striped maroon and pale pink petal on several of the flowers and all with a heavenly scent. Some navy blue ones sown rather later than usual and not yet in flower are clambering up the supports so hopefully this will extend the picking season.


Cut Flowers

June 16, 2014



On the allotment the cutting garden is coming along nicely with the first picking of Ranunculus ‘Purple Heart’. The claw like bulbs were sown in April and now eight weeks later these gorgeous deep plum papery flowers have emerged. They’ve lasted for six days in water and the more I pick the more new buds emerge.  As a flower they were new to me and were inspired by this great book…


Louise Curley the author is keen to encourage individual gardeners as well as the British flower market to value seasonality. It’s estimated that more than 80% of blooms available to buy in the UK are imported and many are air-freighted from around the world. The global impact on the environment is therefore huge and not least in the amount of water required in the production. From a couple of beds on her allotment Louise picks several buckets of cut flowers a week throughout spring and summer and her book shows how you can do the same.

She gives a reminder that now is a good time to sow biennials from seed. These can be sown in pots or trays and will come through over the next few weeks to be planted out late summer to flower next year. Already seeds of Nigella ‘Double White’ have germinated fast…

DSCN2864and seeds of Hesperis matronalis  ‘Sweet Rocket’ are just showing both sown two weeks ago. When these seedlings get to the four-leaf stage they will be potted on in small individual pots to build up a good root system. They’ll sit in the cold frame before planting in the cutting bed late summer. Several self-seeded  Alchemilla mollis found in paving cracks in my garden last autumn were lifted out and planted in the cutting garden and these look great with white cosmos that has just started flowering.


Seeds germinate fast at this time of year with relatively little effort other than some gentle watering. A repeat sowing two weeks ago of dwarf French beans and peas were ready to plant out this weekend on the allotment.  And I returned with our first picking of broad beans, Charlotte potatoes, lettuce and courgettes making all the effort worthwhile.



Flowering Plants for June

June 9, 2014



This fine striped China rose Ferdinand Pichard was rescued last year by me from the back of a border smothered in honeysuckle and clematis. It was replanted and given a huge feed and has emerged unscathed and is now in full bloom with the promise of repeat flowers throughout summer.


This year I decided to use perennial plants in all my pots rather than annual bedding. The plan is to divide them up in autumn for various beds that could do with an uplift. Here is Salvia ‘Cardonna’ which has intense violet-blue flowers brilliantly offset by a lime green hop Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ climbing up the rusty iron arbour behind it.


The Iceland poppy Papaver nudicaule ‘Solar Fire’  is also in full flower in a pot and I’ll save a seed head or two to re-sow next year.  The intense orange looks great against the dark green ivy on the walls behind it.



Above is a pot of Nigella ‘Love in a Mist’ which has taken over the fruit beds on the allotment but at least provides armfuls of cut flowers for the house.




I’ve made a note to buy lots more bulbs of Allium ‘Mount Everest’ ( above) this autumn. It’s been in flower for several weeks with its pure-white flowers and gorgeous green stamens held upright on sturdy tall stems. It’s planted in a parterre and the roundness of the flowers repeats the roundness of the box balls that sit on the four corners of the bed.


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