Archive for the ‘Allotments: The Story So Far.’ Category

… In Jest*.

Image result for express and star walsall

In our local daily newspaper (Walsall edition of the Express and Star) I am constantly entertained, amused or provoked to thought by columnist Peter Rhodes, who comments, often drolly, on current local and national snippets of news and/or behaviour that interest him: politics, language, the legal system. In fact whatever catches his eye. His style is laconic, witty, pointed; at times acerbic But it holds a mirror in which we can, sometimes catch a fleeting reflection of ourselves.

From today’s paper:

“Last week’s big question was whether elephants have souls. This week it is much closer to home. In what must be a bumper year, what are we expected to do with all these vegetable marrows? The country is vanishing under a mountain of marrows and their slimmer, posher cousins, courgettes. A bloke at our local allotments recommends making marrow rum, a process that involves one marrow, a huge amount of sugar, a pinch of yeast and a pair of nylon tights. If you believe the blogosphere marrow rum keeps the brain functioning perfectly while removing all control of the legs.”

******     ******    ******     *****

“I take the same view of allotments that I do of steam railways and vintage cars. I am always glad that other people are looking after them.”

I always look forward to reading his observations.

* “many a true word spoken in jest,” my grandmother would often say, smiling.


Progress and Visitors

Things are all go up at the allotment again.

We have been putting in some solid days and making solid progress. I refused to panic and rush to get the potatoes into the ground. It simply felt that the ground was too damp and too cold. But over the past two weeks, a few rows at a time we have been dropping them – and potato fertiliser into the soil, while the frosts have continued. Other plot holders are hopping around, needing to earth the emerging shoots up, while ours, if they are still healthy, have yet to emerge.

Our greenhouse shelves, floor and all spaces available are heaped with seedlings awaiting transplanting, having been pricked on already. Onions (red and yellow), courgettes, peppers, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, a new plant called Brokali and various flowers (Cosmos and French marigold – super companion plant).

Bumble bees have been raiding the plum and damson blossom and there are the open tapestry-stitch flowers on the dessert pear. The various apples yet to open any blossom.

The repaired hedge is productive and thickening out nicely now: pea sticks from the hazels and willow in there.

And the hedgerow fruit, gooseberry, Jostaberry and thornless blackberry are massing up finely. We added sulphate of potash to the strawberry beds to boost the flower and fruit production (if I got it right that is).

However while digging I was forced into the shed to shelter from a hailstorm (pictures available at ). I not only had to back away from the door, but actually close it so forcefully was the tiny pellets of ice being driven across the ground. But, immediately after the sun came out and a pair of robins visited – time and again -and pillaged the raked over soil for grubs. They seemed to be using the hedgerow path to come on to the ground and the opposite path for the return flights: a redbreast one-way system.


A scrounged bath we had tried to use as a raised bed was emptied of soil and moved, prior to taking it up to the tip. But, on shifting it we discovered a host of amphibians nestled beneath it: two common toads, a large frog and a newt. The discovery reminded me of how freely we wandered the countryside farmland as kids, catching these critters in jam jars. Now some newt species are on the UK Endangered Species List. I think this was a young great crested newt, but seeking confirmation, and wanting to do my bit for conservation, having taken a couple of photos I sent them to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.



Can anybody out there advise me?

Confirm my identification?

Is a license necessary to handle newts these days?

Should any other authorities be notified?

We saw some on the plot a couple of years ago – and, clearly they are stil here. Using the wildlife friendly ponds I believe to reproduce and benefiting from the organic methods we employ and the burgeoning hedgerow.

Felt really proud to have them on the plot!


Air Power

Somebody should have said this, long before me:

“There’s no fool like an allotment fool!”

Certainly applies to me.

I’m part of the team preparing for what we hope will be a big Open Day on Saturday. I’m still trying to get on top of dealing with the plague-proportion tides of weeds without resorting to chemicals and harvest crops that need gathering in (peas, onions, blackberries, potatoes (some blight on site), lettuce – and sustain those still growing on, especially the orchard fruit.

… and what do I do on the drive in?

Spot some contractors cutting down trees and chipping up the “small stuff”. Not content to take note and pass on I’m on the scrounge. They’re quite happy to oblige and we arrange a “drop off” time (we are a secure, locked site).

Little did I realise what a big load they would actually deliver!

Right where we need space for Saturday – naturally!


I quickly start to let others know that they can help themselves and soon there is a steady stream of barrows (different types and states of repair) and the enormous load begins to disappear. But … it’s a big load and …

Between barrows I have to take a breather.

That’s when I notice a single butterfly sitting basking in the sun on the leaf of one of the borlotti bean plants. Glancing around I suddenly notice another, sunning itself, gorgeous wings outspread, on a plank of wood (that’s eventually going to be the edge of a raised bed – honest …) And I sat and relaxed in their company for five, maybe ten  minutes. Human minutes that is.

DSC_0382   DSC_0386

Back at the diminishing – but not by much – stack we are slowly overflown by a Chinook helicopter. We must look like ants from up there, lines of people carrying material to our plots. Possibly this chopper is out on a training exercises from nearby R.A.F. training base, Shawbury, it takes a long slow pass over the site, that distinctive “thwocka thwocka” thunder filling the warm air. I have seen these machines pull some amazing feats of flight at the annual air show at Cosford and had the unusual counter-rotating technology of the rotors explained but still just stand in awe of the skill needed to pilot the thing … and the imagination needed to get to this, bit by bit from no-such-thing-as-a-helicopter to today’s machines.



Clever engineering, marvellous invention, but give me the butterfly any day. Please note that on another day, being reasonably fickle I might well choose the helicopter instead.

The following day I get up relatively late, shoulders aching from the clippers, pulling weeds and wrestling with barrows (whose fault is that ? did I hear you thinking ?) to spend some time shifting whatever is left. The contractors are still on the job felling The contractors are still on the job, one of them harnessed and roped in the top of one of the trees, felling and chipping  … but the remainder of the pile on the allotment is gone.

Chips with everything ?

Not today, thank you!















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.

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.

World Wide Allotments?

Chatička v zahrádkářské kolonii na Krejcárku v...

Chatička v zahrádkářské kolonii na Krejcárku v Praze 8 (?). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of my, so-far insatiable curiosity as I grow from thinking that only England (can-you-imagine I could be so parochial?) ever had allotments

to a wider understanding of the world.

I have been search-engine-ing allotments and came across this – apparent – situation in Poland.

I reproduce the article (a mixture of history, commentary and lobbying perhaps) below:

Progress and tradition collide in Poland’s green oases

Mon, Jul 30 2012

Related Topics

WARSAW (Reuters) – Krystyna Pakulska walks down a dirt track lined with silver birch trees and stops for a moment to breathe in the air.

“Look at the beauty around you, the flowers and the trees,” says the 59-year old, a retired employee of Polish state television. “Why destroy this beautiful land?”

This is an allotment garden, one of dozens carved out of the Polish capital by the country’s previous rulers so that workers could relax in their spare time by tending flowers and shrubs on their personal plots.

Two decades after Poland threw off Communist rule, this relic of a more sedate past is colliding with a modern reality: the appetite of the market for space to build new apartment blocks, offices and retail parks.

This rural idyll is right in the centre of Warsaw and that makes it a prime real estate spot.

A calculation based on market data from real estate firm Colliers International shows that if a garden in central Warsaw were available for residential development, the smallest plot could sell for 165,000 euros, and probably several times more depending on the number of floors in the planned building.

For now that price exists in theory only. Developers cannot touch the allotments, also known as community gardens, because they have special protected status under Polish law.

But the country’s constitutional court ruled in early July that this status had to change, a decision the gardening fraternity says will be exploited by property developers to pick them off one by one, buy up their plots and build on them.

Silver-haired members of the Polish Association of Allotment Holders protested outside the court, and gardeners vowed they would not surrender their plots without a fight.

The row resonates with ordinary Poles too, most of whom can remember summer afternoons from their childhood spent pottering around in a relative’s allotment while the grown-ups enjoyed a beer or vodka. Newspapers ran front-page stories on the court ruling and politicians debated it on television talk shows.

The fight over the garden plots has become a proxy for a bigger conflict being played out in Poland, between the desire for modernity and living standards on a par with the rest of Europe on one hand, and on the other an attachment to older values of family and community.

In the years since the Berlin Wall fell, Poland has embraced the market so enthusiastically that it is now more capitalist than some countries in western Europe.

It worked. Poland’s economy has grown uninterrupted since 1992, and last year was still growing at 4.3 percent, even while growth slumped in the rest of the European Union.

Yet the outpouring of feeling over the allotments has revealed a side of Poland which – possibly influenced by the financial crash on Wall Street and the tribulations of the euro zone – has a more nuanced view about the value of wealth.

“There are people for whom money is not the most important thing,” said Emilia Borkowska, 60, deputy head of the Rakowiec allotment collective just south of Warsaw’s city centre.


The community garden she helps run is divided into about 520 fenced-off plots, each slightly bigger than a tennis court.

Most are like the one owned by Krysztof Borkowski, a 49-year-old policeman. In one corner sits a tiny Alpine-style chalet, where he can shelter from the rain.

The rest of the space is taken up with a manicured lawn, a bush which he has clipped and trained so the foliage is formed into a geometrically perfect spiral, wisteria, a peach tree, an apricot tree, and a grape vine.

Asked what he makes with the grapes, the bare-chested Borkowski, standing next to his elderly mother, laughed: “Only red wine. I’m sorry, I don’t have any today.”

Founded in 1927 during a brief period of Polish independence, the history of the Rakowiec garden traces the jagged arc of Poland over the past 85 years.

When Nazi Germany invaded in 1939, resistance fighters used the garden as a hiding place; its archives record 12 Mauser rifles, 9 pistols and 200 grenades stored in one allotment.

Communists installed by Moscow took over after the war, and the allotments were re-named “Workers’ Gardens”. Owners grew vegetables to make up for the shortages of food in the shops.

Poland was convulsed again when Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker from the port of Gdansk, led the Solidarity protests that toppled Communist rule. Investors arrived, followed by construction cranes. Warsaw became a bustling financial hub.

Yet inside the shrub-lined fences of the Rakowiec garden, little changed. The families who had owned the plots for generations kept them, for the most part, and the gentle rhythm of planting and weeding and watering carried on as before.


Lately though it has grown harder to resist the intrusion of the outside world. Twenty years of economic growth have left real estate developers with a dwindling supply of prime sites where they can profitably build.

Poland needs the developers’ investment . The European Union money that has so far buoyed Poland’s economy will flow less freely in the next few years. Economic growth next year is forecast to slow to 2.1 percent, half the figure for 2011.

There is still a lot of building to do to make up for the stagnation during Communist rule. Warsaw has 2 square meters of office space per capita, while the European average is 5 square meters per head.

“We need to catch up,” said Marta Sikora-Drozda, senior consultant with real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “These (gardens) are very attractive places for residential development, green and situated in prestigious districts with convenient communications from the centre.”

She said that some developers had, a few years ago, looked into acquiring community gardens and then walked away when they came up against laws which protected the allotments.

The ruling on July 11 by the constitutional court may change that. The court decided that the law on the gardens’ status was unconstitutional because it gave the Polish Association of Allotment Holders monopoly control over the gardens.

Tomasz Terlecki, lawyer for the allotment holders’ association, says the law must now be re-drafted, giving developers an opportunity to lobby for the changes they want.

“The regulations … will be more liberal in the future, which of course will be more beneficial for the developers,” said Terlecki.

Back in Rakowiec, the allotment holders are preparing to fight off approaches from developers.

If the garden is put up for sale, the allotment holders might get some kind of pay-off but not enough to buy anything comparable. The state owns the land under the plots, so it would receive the bulk of any compensation from the developer.

Pakulska, the former Polish television employee, has had an allotment in her family since 1971. She does not know what she would do if it was taken away.

“They (businessmen) want to build supermarkets and malls here. It is about money and nothing else. I understand it because it’s about the market,” she said.

“But why here?”

(£1 = 4.95 Polish zloty)

(Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Patrick Graham

I am genuinely intrigued to find out more; about whether – or more likely how – allotments work different countries and regions of the world.

let me know please, I would be very interested to hear from you.

Diligence and the Local Historial Society.

English: Salem Church Methodist church erected...

English: Salem Church Methodist church erected 1855 and enlarged in 1899. The population of Cheslyn Hay expanded rapidly in the mid 19th century with the development of the South Staffordshire Coalfield. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cheslyn Hay has a tireless and frankly very efficient Local History Society. They have an “open-door/drop in session” every Tuesday morning at the Salem Chapel – and are really jolly friendly when you get in there. 


I know because in my quest to find something out about our allotment site I dropped in; took a seat and an offered cup of tea and learned that, once upon a time a whole lot more of Cheslyn Hay was actually turned over to allotment sites. Places where there are now houses and pubs and estates and … they have photos to prove it, but sadly, so far, none of our particular site.


But our site (On Pinfold Lane) remains: along with the few very active plots behind the Working Men’s Club the only allotments now in the village (or indeed for some miles around).


The item below was found by members of Cheslyn Hay Local Historical Society ( ) during a diligent search of newspaper archives. I can honestly say that I was stunned to silence (A rare feat indeed!) when reading it.

If you have ever tried to research your own allotment site you may well have noticed that historical documentation is not easy to come across.

This brought so much of the history alive for me and I then scurried about on Google (other search engines are available) looking for Barn Flat and …)

It certainly sets the land in a context and wow! What an appeal the day must have had with visitors from fairly far afield and – I am guessing – fairly reasonable returns (in old money), making me wonder how much, and indeed how, people were charged.

Take  a moment to read it please:


“2nd August 1913  When the Local Government Act of 1894 was passed, which provided for Parish Councils the good folk of Cheslyn Hay were the first to demand allotments, and soon twelve acres of land was obtained and cultivated by allottees.  It followed that the success should be celebrated and there was a pleasant gathering at which it was proposed that a Horticultural Society should be formed for the Parish.  The idea was heartily endorsed by the public and about 15 years ago the first gathering was held in that favourite trysting place of Cheslyn Hay folk, the Barn Flat.  As usual the public of the place rose to the occasion on the day of the show, which has since been an annual one, about £27 was taken in admission.  This, probably, has not been exceeded, although in this year of grace it is hoped the sum will nearly reach that amount.  It was a beautiful day was that of Monday, but had the weather been unpropitious so determined were the public that this year’s show should be a success that it would have been so.  “It goes without saying” as the old adage has it.

But it was a beautiful day; moreover the display of fruit and vegetables was of such a character that those who lived at Cheslyn Hay a quarter of a century ago would have “rubbed their eyes” and doubted if such was grown in their midst.  It was probably the best exhibition of the series; it was the best arranged affair; it was probably, taking the sale of tickets into consideration, the best attended.  Thus the committee are to be congratulated, for it shows what can be done when the public are taken into the confidence of the promoters.

At this time the attendance was large and the returns were evidently satisfactory.  From five to seven o’clock the attendance greatly increased.  The takings at the gate were £21 0s 4d.  It is stated that there were many tickets sold also.  The committee had arranged a good programme of sports which was satisfactorily carried out. A special word of praise is due to Mrs Allan and her girls for the performances with the Maypole which were very interesting and greatly appreciated by the audience.  There were six prizes in the Horse Leaping Competition.  The results were: – First Prize £5, Mr A Saunders, Tettenhall, with ‘Prince’; Second Prize, £2, Mr R Chadwick, Rugeley, with ‘Nomination’; Third Prize, £1, Mr & Mrs. A Foster, Derby, with ‘Mustard’.

The Bowling Competition which was well organised by Messrs S Parbrook, W Follows, W Hemingsley and H Baker was a great success and there were no less than 73 entries, but only the first round was decided.  The competition is to be continued during the week.

Ham Slicing Competition, winner T Horton.

Kicking the Football through a Hoop, 1st A Wollaston and H Adams (Shareshill); 2nd W Eccleston ; 3rd C Morgan.

Obstacle Race, 1st A Eccleston £1; 2nd Stokes 10s; 3rd S Newell 5s.

Tug of War, organised by Mr F J Altree.  This was a capital contest, but the Great Wyrley Colliery team were winners of the first prize of 15s, and Harrisons Working Men’s Club second prize of 7s 6d.

The Cheslyn Hay Victoria Brass Band was in attendance and played choice selections of music under the conductorship of Mr I Greenfield.  The band played also for the dancing in the evening until 9 o’clock when the National Anthem was played and the proceedings which were very successful were brought to a close.

Mr J Perry as Secretary worked most energetically and this had much to do with the success of the gathering.”



Unfortunately I do not know which newspaper the article is taken from, but my thanks to members of the Historical Society for their amazing work.


Oh and if anyone can enlighten me as to “horse leaping” and ham slicing, please get in touch …


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