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Late-Summer on the Allotment

August 20, 2014



After a huge weeding session this week a green manure Phacelia tanacetifolia was sown into three small empty beds edging the paths. It’s very pretty and winter hardy and should flower this autumn to be dug in next spring.  It’s good for adding humus to poor soils and will keep the weeds down.DSCN2501


Flat-leaf parsley can be sown now for a winter supply and will crop for two years. Coriander also does well sown in late summer and is less prone to bolt than from a spring sowing.



I have a row of very healthy plum tomatoes T. San Marzano with no sign of blight- they just need more sun to fully ripen.



A  blackberry ‘Merton Thornless ‘ planted against the allotment shed is producing enormous juicy fruit.

DSCN3095 Dahlia ‘Night Queen’ with African marigolds was picked for a crazy patterned jug.  I’m saving as many dahlias as possible for a family event in ten days time.

Clerodendrum trichotomum

August 13, 2014


DSCN3070The Clerodendrum trichotomum has been stunning this year and on warm days the garden is flooded with an intense perfume from the flowers. I pruned it hard last autumn to restore the shape and it seems to have loved the cut back. Next to it is a huge shrub rose Rosa rubrifolia with the grey-green leaves set off by the huge pale orange rose hips and the two together look lovely.


In a neighbour’s garden Japanese wineberries are extremely decorative with their arching stems covered in soft bright red bristles. The fruit is sweet but rather bland but they look very lovely against an old stone wall.


Seeds of White Nigella ‘Love in a Mist ‘ sown four weeks ago has come through in the cutting bed and when the flowers have dried out the seeds will be re-sown. As a hardy annual these will survive the winter and be ready to bloom early summer next year.



My experiment with the compost activator has worked.   This was the full bin six weeks ago before pouring on the mixture …


And here it is last weekend albeit with a few egg shells and twigs still visible but worthy of using….



I guess the hot weather helped spur it on and the fact that I resisted adding new kitchen waste for the last six weeks allowed it to fully break down. I repeated the trial on a large conical bin on the allotment which was full to the brim and it has halved in quantity so the same excellent results.



My four dahlia plants are smothered in buds and will be ready to pick over the next week or two.




I rounded up the last of the purple sweet peas, cerise cosmos and a few mustard flowers from the dill plant.

Cutting Back Perennials

August 6, 2014

nepeta six hills-001

For ten weeks this summer Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ was one of the best plants in the garden. It sprawled over paving and glowed in the evening light and was buzzing with bee activity for much of the day. The flowers faded dramatically three weeks ago so it’s now been cut back to 10 cm in the hope that it will flower again.


The Achillea ‘Moonshine’ were also lovely all summer softly distracting throughout June and July whilst waiting for the Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ planted behind it to flower.  These too have been cut back less in the hope of re-flowering more to get a sturdy root system going for next summer.


On the allotment I’ve pruned the gooseberry and black currant bushes cutting back the side shoots that were produced on the leader this year to 15 cm.  A good guide is to have 4 or 5 leaf buds remaining on the side-shoots and to remove very old branches at the base and any that cross over others. With the currants I’ve cut the centre of the bush into a goblet-shaped space to provide more ventilation. A thorough weeding in the fruit bush bed was necessary after Nigella ‘Love-in a Mist’ colonised the ground and a sack of well-rotted manure will be applied over winter at the base of each bush.

pruning fruit bushes


With the gooseberries I plan to net them late winter rather than leaving it till the fruit forms in spring.  I had a poor crop this summer and have been told that finches in particular attack the buds which produce next year’s fruit.



The first lot of sweet peas are over and have started to form seed pods as have the marigolds and ‘Love in a Mist’ so yesterday in the sun I gathered them to store in paper bags to sow at a later date.





The cut flowers this week are Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, Hydrangea ‘Madam Mouillere’ and white Cosmos.


July 28, 2014

I love seeing Buddleja davidii on waste ground it feels optimistic that even in a neglected area with no one weeding or watering- plants still manage to thrive and scent the air.  But if space is limited it’s best to choose from dwarf cultivars especially those that  sit comfortably in borders making an effective backdrop to other summer-flowering shrubs and perennials. Below is B.’Buzz Sky Blue’ which is bred to suit small gardens and is compact enough for a pot. In a large mixed border in S. Devon it sits surrounded by fennel and has been planted beside a window where the owners regularly watch  Hummingbird Hawk moths, Jersey Tiger moths (most commonly found in S. Devon), Large Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Small Peacock butterflies. DSCN3011

Two of my own favourite buddlejas are B. davidii ‘Black Knight’  which has the darkest purple flowers and is a manageable size growing to 3 m and below the white B. davidii ‘White Profusion’.

white buddleja All  respond well to a hard prune in March which keeps them compact and stops them getting straggly and buddlejas are best planted in sun and in well-drained soil.

I recently spotted Astrantia major in a country garden growing in profusion and self-seeding in almost total shade. I love the off-white,  pin- cushiony flowers and that they last well when cut for a vase. DSCN2981

This week my cut flowers are Dahlia ‘Karma Naomi’ with Cosmos ‘Sensation’ and a purple sweet pea that I sowed rather late so it’s only just started flowering. DSCN3028

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.


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