Archive for March, 2014

What The Ell?



The following two pieces are taken from the Mail on Sunday (courtesy of Lufthansa) picked up when I flew via Frankfurt to Linz. It made lightly fascinating reading, is typical of the

mail papers, trying to start a “crusade”, a rant about bureaucracy and, just perhaps over-egging the pudding:

“Metric Zealots axe 600-year-old rules on allotments

Town hall bureaucrats were last night accused of “officiousness for its own sake” in forcing thousands of allotment holders nationwide to scrap

imperial measurements and go metric.

For generations, allotment sizes have been defined using a 600 year old system of “rods” also known as “poles” or “perches”, equivalent to5.5 yards. In the

past few weeks, however, thousands of gardeners have received rent renewal notices informing them of the switch. A typical site of ten poles will now be

registered as 253 square metres.

Strangely neither central nor local government can agree on who ordered the change or why it is being made now.

Warwick Cairns of the pro-imperial British Weights and Measures Association said: “It’s officiousness for its own sake. there is no reason for it. The

European Commission gave up on metric Britain in in 2007.” Allotments are still legally defined in poles and mandarins in Whitehall were baffled by the change.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said:

“There is no central government requirement for town halls measure up the size of their allotments. This sounds like the work of over-zealous municipal officials.”

But a spokes man for Basingstoke Council, one of those making the change, said it was complying with legislation. I’m not sure when the law changed, but this is the first year we’ve implemented it.”


This second piece is from Comment (the editorial) and I imagine the editor was happy to get his teeth around something so safely archaic:

“Spare the Rod…

Like country branch lines, church bells and hedgerows, our ancient measures link us poetically with our half-forgotten past.

Polished in use, furlongs, firkins, bushels and acres whisper of another slower, more peaceful time. So why get rid of rods, poles and perches in allotments, of all places?

these are places for quiet contemplation, where urgent modernisation is need less and unwelcome.

we don’t export allotments to Germany or Japan, so why should we measure them in soulless metres/ Spare the rod, pole and perch.”


As some exam papers are wont to say: discuss.


Packwood House.

Sunny Saturday morning: a little lazy wind, but good prospects. Good day to go to the allotments, but fancied something a little different. So … a trip to Packwood House. Making that National Trust membership pay.
We pulled in here before, but it didn’t open for half an hour so we jogged on to Baddesley Clinton. Relaxed stroll around the gardens then an introduction to the house from a volunteer with a Scots accent. Very informative, great background and history. In a way quintessentially English and definitely National Trust:. A farm leased after the Reformation by the Fetherston (sic.) family. Bought and improved, passed through the ever-expanding family. Heirless neglect. Bought by a rich industrialist for his fifteen year old son, Graham Baron Ash, who re-invented it (and massively added to it) as a “Tudor manor”. Replaced the Georgian windows with Tudor-contemporary glass, some from Belgium. The cow barn converted into a great hall and a “Tudor long gallery” built between it and the house proper in faithful-to-the–period style, with authentic furniture saved/rescued/salvaged” from other properties during the Depression. Queen Mary taking tea there.
There are yew trees (apparently in danger because of poor recent weather over the past two years) in the ornamental garden and an orchard being re-stocked but I was fascinated by the kitchen walled garden. It brought back memories for me of Little Wyrley Halls’ walled garden, though was nowhere near as large or as well planted as I can remember . The one at Little Wyrley hall has been turned over to grass – and, last thing I knew was a paddock for a pony.

The plans for the development are well made and the glasshouse section shut off to visitors today looks well stocked. Loved the little features The Bug Barn, the well feathered “spud hawk” and the wooden block faced with mirrors bird-scarer and the little mound of clay pots stocked with pine cones.

DSC02222 DSC02223 DSC02224 DSC02225
The mole repelling machine looked Heath-Robinson good. Depending I guess on the notion that moles do not like vibrations. No many vegetables planted yet, but that’s simple wisdom. We have lettuce seeds sprouting in our greenhouse, but nothing planted in the allotment ground yet.
Beef stew was served in a bowl, cappuccino later was delicious. A short walk down the avenue and in the Gorse Wood.


Spring? Really ?


What a fine warm start to the day. I am in the bathroom, the window is open and I can hear the frogs (or maybe toads grunting rather than croaking) down below in the small back-garden pond. A small honey bee, the first I have seen out this year crashes a couple of times into the back bedroom window.

Seed potatoes (early Arran Pilot and later Desiree and Picasso) are chitting in the downstairs loo (where else?) and the greenhouse is cleaned out and seeds sown in seed trays and pots; the onion sets started off too in the greenhouse.

Later, up on the allotment I am soon down to T-shirt. An old one to be frank that needs getting rid of but “will do for the allotment”. It was orange once, but is now truly wash-faded: still not my best colour however.

Ladybirds appear, crawling sleepily out of wherever they over-wintered. Onto the parsley, the wooden sides of the raised bed, the lid of the compost heap (still hot to the touch). One heap is ready to be emptied, used as top dressing  and the sequence re-starting. There’s a riding stables not far away where they leave the stable clearings on the car park out front in plastic bags; very allotment friendly behaviour, thanks guys.

Laying more of the going-on-forever slab path (a little more confident in my own skills now, so possibly faster) I catch sight of buzzards, blue tits, a robin, hedge and house sparrows and, closer to hand, a slow-winged peacock butterfly.


A neighbour comes over to chat and he spots the spawn and the frogs in the wildlife ponds up there, close to the shed. Three frogs together, then the surface heaves as a fourth makes his (or her) presence known. The noises they make are clearly mating calls and carry long distances. Big volumes for such a small, usually unassuming critter.


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I am pleased they are back, that they found the ponds.

There are lots of people up working – or chatting – today. Brought out, no doubt by the good weather. Spring is making itself known. Hedges and fruit trees budding up. Early flowers blooming.

Elsewhere it seems the behaviour of the frogs may be contagious.


Fiery Friday

Photo: Great fire day todayDSC02173

Seems we all love Fridays: the one day in the allotment week when we are allowed to burn garden rubbish: dry weeds, bits of timber, holed sacks, brash, hedge prunings, raspberry canes cut off last week …

This Friday little smudges of smoke rising from here and there, rooted in bright orange embers or flames as we all seek to get rid of “in the way stuff”. Plots being cleared for new occupants, a shed that is way, way past its lean-by date going up in flames, “squitch” (couch) grass rhizomes …


The weather is fine; apparently there were Northern Lights in the skies last night (a sight I missed but would love to have seen) but there is no sign of the predicted snow and the wind is light and changes direction often.

The site is a buzz of expectant activity.

The sounds of people breaking up wood to build fires, digging; the scents of smoke – and, dare I ask is that petrol? Blackbirds tugging long wisps of dried grass from compost heaps  It is spring and feels like it. Patience is the watchword. There is still the possibility of frosts – and they will still bite deep into the soil (later ones will simply be surface-only frosts) and damage seeds or emerging seedlings.

I light the fires – one in a brazier, ready stacked and one open ground fire and tramp about laying more slabs: proud of the path that is growing down the hedgerow. It is reasonable to put a path here: the roots of the hedge plants and the shade they cast means little can grow well in this space, the path enables access, makes maintaining the hedge easier and looks tidy. But, in laying the slabs I am chopping the hedge back and dragging the assorted briar brambles, hawthorn, hazel and holly clippings to the fire. On one trip I notice a perfect crocus peeping out of wood chip which borders the raised bed we used last year for courgettes and outdoor tomatoes. I make a mental note not  to trample it.DSC02175

Using up the leaned-together slabs clears a space on the plot and I reach a stage where my back is telling me I’ve laid enough slabs (thank you very much) and so I take the fork and turn over the soil. Sure I have said it before – perhaps many times – but for me there is something therapeutic about digging.DSC02176

Linked with burning it becomes magical.

The smoke wraps itself around me as I work and my clothes will, no doubt stink of it back at home but in the moment it feels good. A precursor to planting seeds and the magical period of germination and growth.

Here’s to more such moments.


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