I must confess to being something of a fantasy gardener. This is not because I devise grand schemes along the lines of Versailles or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. No, this is because I grossly underestimate how much time one person, with a full time job outside the home, can spend maintaining a front and back garden and a large allotment. In the past I have allowed myself to be seduced by the glossy gardening catalogues, that arrive in the post-Christmas lull, promising lush foliage, a riot of blooms and a kitchen full of vegetables. Each year I hand over my hard-earned cash in exchange for a handful of beans and an assortment of dahlia tubers and gladioli corms whose loveliness lies, not in their appearance, but in the promise of the bounty to come. Some years the dahlias make it as far as pots of potting compost to spur them into growth, until the threat of frost has passed, but that is usually as far as they do get. There has been a much greater chance, especially in recent years, that they will simply rot in their boxes under the dining room table, or in the allotment shed, as I metaphorically beat myself about the head with the the weighty tome that is the RHS Gardening Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, for not being more organised!
This year, however, it will be different (she says). The paid job has gone and since I now have less cash to buy fruit, veg and flowers I actually need to grow my own. To be fair, I have done myself something of an injustice in focussing on the dahlias and gladioli because they are my horticultural Achilles heel. One of the bonuses of taking on my particular allotment nine years ago, was that it already boasted about ten mature blackcurrant bushes. However busy I was at work, I always made time to pick the annual crop they produced and put them in the freezer. They yield twenty pounds plus per season, so this was no mean feat, and I always felt proud of myself for having squirelled them away for a later date. Work being as it was and running very largely in terms of projects meant that I couldn't give regular weekly attention to the allotment and the weeds grew faster than I could plant.
This year I haven't made any great plans, or even ordered my dahlias yet, but my allotment is going to be a top priority. Watch this space!
For anyone thinking of taking on an allotment - if they have a tiny garden like me or for the comraderie of gardening with others - I would give the following advice from experience:-
- don't try to cultivate it all at once. Clear a bit and then plant it up. You can then have stuff growing whilst you are clearing another patch. If you try to clear it all before planting you may well find (as I did) that a fine crop of weeds have established themselves firmly in your newly turned beds before you actually plant anything at all!
- only grow what you will like and eat a lot of. I could eat courgettes until they came out of my ears! Potatoes are good for clearing the ground but unless you particularly hanker after newly dug salad potatoes they are cheap enough to buy. Seasonal gluts of runner beans and rhubarb used to bring the price down but that doesn't seem to happen now and the price, certainly in supermarkets, remains the same. More unusual varieties of soft fruit, such as red and white currants, are virtually impossible to get hold of at all and you only have to pay for the bushes once.
- get it in the ground. Jack's handful of beans were worthless until his mother threw them to the ground and they sprouted a beanstalk that yielded treasure. As my husband is very fond of saying, "they won't grow in the packet". Don't blame me, though, if you become awash with artichokes or buried in beetroot!
- be prepared to give away what you can't store or use yourself. This can be to family and friends or other allotment holders. People are very appreciative of home-grown stuff, especially if you're gardening along organic lines. Very often they can surprise you with something in return.
- make your own compost. Why fill up your weekly binbag with potato peelings when they can provide nourishment for your soil? The book Compost:The Natural Way to Make Food for Your Garden by Kenneth Thompson explains the processes involved and how to get started. Most local councils offer compost bins at reduced rates as it cuts down on their landfill costs.
I intend to include green issues in the 'growing' section because they go hand-in hand with the organic type of gardening I try to pursue. With any luck both my compost heaps and my knowledge base of gardening and environmental awareness will be growing, too, so it seemed the natural place to encompass both.