Archive for April, 2014



I may be a spider-bitten, better drawn character

In a different-hour, other-hero world

Who’ll leave his loved one’s near- seduction-moment chamber

To ensure the dastardly scheme’s never fully unfurled.


But, when I’m holding this brass-padlock key

I’m on the allotment; it’s time for me

For once in life I keep up with the plot

Please give me one chance to enjoy this lot.


I may be a social-miracle worker,

The patience of Job, all hours of the clock

Have the spark energy and thick skin of elite berserker

Be someone capable of shrugging off shock.


But be aware that inside these gates

I’ve paid my annual have-privacy fee

I don’t need to know what’s on your slates

For while I’m holding the line I’m free.


Yesterday,perhaps I had the strength of Samson,

The tricks of Merlin, the grace of a leopard

Tomorrow maybe I’ll have the…

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A (TV) Challenge Too Far ?

I am sure (in that confident way that all fools are sure) that this is European year of the Garden, though I cannot explain why. Can anybody out there help? Either with the conviction or with a confirmation?

Certainly BBC TV is acting like it may be and promoting all manner of horticulture related programming. There was a superb programme last week on the Science of Soil with Chris Beardshaw doing the honours as convincing presenter. Good pictures, experiments-come-demonstrations and well researched. Interesting that draining peat bogs allows oxygen into the non-decomposed material which then allows bacteria to go to work and, it was said, reduces the quantity of peat as well as its basic nature. (Peat being one of the four types of soil mentioned: the others: clay, sand and silt (I call it loam).

Another offering flattered, in my opinion, to deceive. The Great Allotment Challenge began by seeking growers who would work in pairs to turn a patch inside a walled garden into a productive allotment. Sounded fascinating, but the reality is somewhat different. Each week pairs are faced with “challenges” (which must have been pre-arranged and so must impact on the planting choices (in terms of crops and techniques) and a pair is “sent home” at the end of each challenge. There was little or nothing about methods, cultivation tips or insights in the first programme … so in line with my “if-you-don’t-like-it, don’t-watch-it” philosophy this weeks went by the board. the picture below, nicely posed has Fern Britton who, to be fair makes a good fist of presenting such a conceptually awkward beast of a show and is courtesy of the Scunthorpe Telegraph.


The programme which follows it is called British Gardens in Time. Last week we were treated to fine wide angle views, sweeping panning shots and historic information linked to Stowe, the one –time home of Viscount Cobham and his family, where the “British landscape garden form really began and one Lawrence (later “Capability”) Brown was an apprentice. The programme traces garden and social fashions, the lives of the people involved and the context in which the gardens developed from their very beginnings. This week the programme came from closer to home: Biddulph Grange Gardens up past “the Potteries”. Chris Beardshaw (again), Andrea Wulf and Alan Power (National Trust head gardener from Stourhead) are the presenters. Again finely researched information about the eccentric collector/owner Batemen who made the whole “jig-saw” vision come together in a series of gardens from around the world.

Stunning photography reveals the garden in all seasons, the eccentricities of the owners and links the gardens to contemporary events (The publication of Darwin’s Evolution of the Species for example).

I have visited Biddulph Grange a couple of times and the programme makes me want to go back again (hint, hint!). The Chinese Garden, the tunnels and the Stumpery … and some features I must have missed last time I was there.

(This programme linked with the BBC’s Georgians series are fascinating viewing).

I am all in favour of gardening on TV. It might inspire people to take it up, take on allotments, try something different. The format that is used in the Great Allotment Challenge is so similar to other programmes about sewing, baking and dancing that maybe it will lead to an upsurge of interest in allotment gardening; never a bad thing – and aren’t we allotmenteers just too often stereotyped and misunderstood ?

At a time when Eric Pickles is granting permission for allotment suites to be sold off by local authorities we need something like this to generate interest and understanding of all aspects of allotment life: the techniques, social life, determination, community culture and hard work …

…just as long as those taking on the allotments do not expect local sites to be anything like those inside that walled garden.

Claiming the Amendment.

That’ll be the Forth Rail Bridge Painter’s Amendment obviously. And not the one that was soften mouthed in 1980s U.S detective programmes. This one is the riposte, the antidote to the saying that – sorry to be in any way sexist here – when a man starts a job he inevitably creates seven (or is it more?) that weren’t there before. I’m sure you’ve heard it, no?

To explain:

The day after St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (how, I wonder does anyone know that with any certainty?) and we had a small task to do in our own back garden today, some gentle re-pruning and training of a wall-side climbing rose and the planting of a clematis somewhere in the same vicinity. The seeds are germinated or germinating in the greenhouse, some plants being put out to harden off. A new “shrubbery” (echoes of those crazi knights in MOnty Python and the Holy Grail) taking shape in the “shade” border (two Fothergilla majors, ad Acer and a Cotinus planted).

Now, in the opposite side we needed to take up some Bear’s Britches plants that have been hogging the area in a way that is only ever truly understood by others who have had these beautiful, mysterious, vaguely heraldic monsters in their own gardens. Massive, spreading rooting (rhizome like) networks that proliferate and send up new plants. Also in the way were various wildflower plants, mainly ivy and woundwort.

Small job becoming bigger. Then the rose looks less healthy close up. Take it out. But the frame work it is climbing is also rooting away. Take it off the wall.

At this point the decorators of the Scots bridge reach for new paintbrushes and screwdrivers to lever the lids of fresh tins of paint, sighing knowledgably no doubt.

New plan. Spread bone-meal and chicken pellets across the soil, plant a couple of climbing fuchsias (from cuttings taken last year) and two clematis plants. Replace the old frame with some taken-down and moved trellis, held away from the wall by newly fixed timbers (duly sawn to size and drilled).

While all of this is underway an enormous frog makes an appearance. Disturbed by our activities no doubt and has to be captured (and very evasive this one proved to be) and let go in a safer spot. An ally this creature, helping to control slugs and pests. So treated kindly.  


By the time we had finished the area was strewn with tools, scraps of wood, escaped roots like amputated thumbs, assorted screws, spilled soil, empty pots and a trusty Black and Decker Workmate (another long-serving (long-suffering) ally).

Cup of tea then the watering in.

Phew. The work has cleared a few over-wintering pots, made a new space where the rose had, sadly perhaps, outlived its purpose and given the two of us a good stretch and work out.

Ready to start back on the other side with the red lead again tomorrow then lads?

Spring Pictures.


Just what was needed to cheer us up:

bright sun, free slabs and orange!

Cake and a Cuppa …

Cheslyn Hay Community Allotments

Thanks to everyone who supported the day today.

The cheeky photos above were taken during the setting up: these things do not prepare themselves and show some of the behind-the-scenes happenings.

A special thanks to everyone who provided cakes (and refreshments): this is done at no expense to the allotments and involves time, effort and expense …

and those cakes ?

Hmmm, such quality.

Heard somebody saying “better than National Trust cakes. And so much cheaper.”

Thank you bakers, one and all.

All proceeds go to West Midlands Air Ambulance Service.

This was voted for at our October A.G.M. as our adopted charity of the year.

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April Rise

If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now in this still early day
Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye.

Blown bubble-film of blue, the sky wraps round
Weeds of warm light whose every root and rod
Splutters with soapy green, and all the world
Sweats with the bead of summer in its bud.

If ever I heard blessing it is there
Where birds in trees that shoals and shadows are
Splash with their hidden wings and drops of sound
Break on my ears their crests of throbbing air.

Pure in the haze the emerald sun dilates,
The lips of sparrows milk the mossy stones,
While white as water by the lake a girl
Swims her green hand among the gathered swans.

Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick,
Dropping small flames to light the candled grass;
Now, as my low blood scales its second chance,
If ever world were blessed, now it is.

Laurie Lee

Spring Cleaning …


The River Bank

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring- cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.  DSC02275

‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. `This is better than whitewashing!’ The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side.


It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting— everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering ‘whitewash!’ he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.



The above is, of course an excerpt from Wind in the Willows, by the great Kenneth Grahame: quintessentially English and it leapt into my mind today as I watched my plot neighbours going about their businesses.


“Some I Prepared Earlier…”

   I have been away for a week.

Nothing has changed here, nothing has stayed the same.

I wander, almost aimlessly into the downstairs loo – the potatoes are in there, quietly chitting away,


minding their own businesses. I had quite forgotten them. Arran Pilot, Desiree and Picasso in various boxes to promote good growth

(well that’s the plan right?).

My mission is to clear the land – my winter digging really is very rough and the ground is nowhere near level: it’s my usual style. If I had to explain – please don’t make him,

the nurses don’t like it when he gets upset so – I would say it is to let the weather get at a larger surface area, do more good, kill more weed seeds. Actually it’s simply a habit.

So today I take some seed potatoes up to the plot and head to the plots (we have three between us).

I am surprised again: I had forgotten that I had laid the slab paths, and, yes they are still there. I feel quite proud of myself and stand and admire my handiwork.

DSC02267               DSC02268

Then there’s the chatter … did you have a good time … where … how much schnapps … never heard of it … no I don’t … blah blah and the soil isn’t being raked and the potatoes

roll their chit filled eyes to heaven (in my imagination anyways).

Eventually I crack on. Back into the work. Trench, potato fertiliser, chicken muck pellets, potato. Move the line, repeat. Again and again.


In levelling and planting I am also tidying up the plot. the pile of riddled soil goes back into the “carrot barrel”, scattered sticks are sorted 9the good ones for row-markers, the

unsound ones into the brazier.

And by the time I have finished cabbages have been up-rooted and distributes, weeds pulled up (onto the compost heap), big stones put aside, and the ground looks like a vegetable plot again.

Back at home last year’s harvest looks like this:


DSC02265 DSC02266



But, come on, we did our best.


What Life … ?

Life in the woods


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


W.H. Davies


This is one to remind me – and you, perhaps – that sometimes it is important to stop with the digging, planting, weeding,

pruning, picking (etc, etc, etc …), take a look around and enjoy what is around us. We won’t be here in this moment again

and it really is OK to “stand and gawk (a fine word!)” as in

Take a moment – unless the chip pan is on fire of course – or it is your turn to buy the beer.


Image from



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