Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Upcycling The Shed

With the greenhouse established, it was now time to turn my attention to the old weather beaten (and let's face it - rather unsightly) shed at the bottom of the plot. I am a great advocate of recycling and upcycling, and the shed that I had been given the previous year afforded me the perfect opportunity for doing just so.

The old rustic bricks had been laid to form a path to the door of the shed, and on one side of the path, (where the bricks had been stacked), in front of the picket fence screening off the hawthorn hedge at the bottom of the plot, an area for a little garden was created, with teasels; roses; foxgloves and hollyhocks that I had sown from seed.

Once a few loose boards had been repaired, the shed which was an incongruous peeling orangey-red colour was then re-painted with a more harmonious blue/green colour appropriately named "Wild Thyme." Leaving enough room for a seating area, another picket fence was erected to the other side of the shed and sweet pea and borage planted along it.

Honey bees buzz around the blue star-shaped flowers of the borage, and sweet-pea blooms scramble over the picket fence framing the newly painted shed.

Two tea-towels in a vintage style duck-egg blue with faded pink roses were hung at the window as curtains.

As a finishing touch (for the moment!) pots with hollyhocks and clematis rescued from attacking snails in the garden at home were placed beside the door and window. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Greenhouse

As the weather gradually grew warmer over the next few weeks and months, so returned the fervour for the allotment. 

In the autumn of the previous year, thanks to one of my fellow plot holders I had procured a greenhouse. Unfortunately the actual logistics for the transportation of the greenhouse from where it resided in a walled garden several miles away from the plot proved more difficult than could have been anticipated.

The greenhouse had undoubtedly been erected inside the walled garden, but due to it's age and robustness (or lack of!) dismantling the frame was not an option. The only access and egress to and from the garden was through a narrow door in the 8 ft high wall, through which it was obvious the greenhouse would not fit. Once the panes of glass had been removed the only option was to lift the aluminum frame over the wall. At 5'2" this was easier said than done for me and thus other allotmenteers had to be drafted in for assistance.

A rickety old table was positioned in the doorway either side of the wall and for a short time three of us stood hazardously upon the table manoeuvring the wobbling frame above our heads and over the wall. The task had barely been accomplished when a leg of the table, with a loud groan of protest gave way. Fortunately we were unscathed and after some hurried remedial work was undertaken to disguise the damage to the table, the greenhouse was transported at a sedate 20mph on the back of a trailer to the allotment.

A few weeks later, after only one further set back - when the wind caught the unglazed frame of the greenhouse, tumbling it over and over down the slope and in the process severing  several branches from the poor Cox's Pippin apple tree; the efforts were all worthwhile as the greenhouse was securely located in its new home halfway down the plot on the left hand side.

A grapevine was planted in one corner of the greenhouse along with tomatoes, basil and peppers. Jewel-like, orange calendula edged the little path of old Quarry tiles leading to the door.

The greenhouse looked as though it had been established in the plot for years.

Viewed from the lane.

As the summer progressed the sweetcorn stood like sentries as the yellow sunflowers raised their heads towards the sun and the vividly coloured calendula spilt over the little path leading into the greenhouse. The tomatoes ripened and fresh homemade tomato and basil soup was on the menu.

Tomato Soup Recipe

200g Onions, chopped
2 tbsp Olive Oil
900g Tomatoes
dash of Port
3 tbsp torn basil, plus some to serve
Salt and black pepper
Vegetable stock (optional)

Sweat the onions.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes are softened.
Whiz the soup in a blender and sieve. It will be fairly thick, but use vegetable stock to thin if required.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Hard Winter

Summer fizzled out and merged into autumn; disappearing without any sign of an Indian summer. The lure of the allotment paled as autumn raspberries became mushy and mouldy; the blooms of the sweet pea faded and the sunflower heads turned brown; the remaining runner beans were too stringy to be desirous of eating and the leafy greens had gone to seed.

The second winter at the allotment arrived overnight with a bang. In October the temperatures plummeted without warning, falling to as low as -16. The world outside my windows was transformed to silent magical Narnia. 

The bright contrast of the snow and ice against the vivid blue of the sky gave the impression of another frozen world.

A winter wonderland!

As the sun set low in the sky, wrapping up warmly we ventured out for an evening walk. In the forest park the lake was frozen solid;

beneath our feet the snow was crisp and icicles sparkled and glistened from the trees above.

The ducks swum miserably in the only little patch of unfrozen water that they could find.

At the allotment the herbs suffered instantly and both the Rosemary and the Bay tree died. The birds struggled to find food in the frozen ground and bird feeders were hung up by many of the plot holders.

Travel to and from the Fairs proved hazardous, especially the event held by Polly Rowan-Hamilton at Killyleagh Castle; although the Castle looked beautiful in all it's winter glory, and could well have been mistaken for the Ice Palace. However the weather didn't deter the visitors and merely added to the festive atmosphere providing us stall holders with a most enjoyable day and the horrendously treacherous journey worthwhile. 

(Unbelievably remiss of me, but with the apprehension of the journey, I forgot to bring my camera, but the castle looks just as impressive in sunshine as well).

As quickly as the temperatures dropped, so they rose and the country was soon awash with burst pipes. Everyone wished for the winter to be over and for Spring to arrive.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Work in Progress

The first autumn slipped by into winter and eventually, following many bleak days, spring arrived. After much back breaking and futile attempts to eradicate the Horsetail that choked the plot, I turned my attention to the less strenuous task of sowing. 

(Gardeners' Herbal Soap)

Peony flowered poppies, the seeds and seed heads of which I use both as an ingredient and as decoration for my Gardener's Herbal soap); calendula (of which I use as a colourant for my yellow soaps); and nasturtium seeds were all sown directly into the newly prepared beds. Seed trays with sweet pea, sunflowers and borage, runner beans, peas and sweetcorn took up every sunny windowsill and ledge at home.

A spell of exceptional weather with cloudless, cornflower blue skies meant that at the allotment we were kept occupied with the essential task of daily watering along with the constant battle of fighting the war against weeds, which seemed to multiply as we watched. The carefully sown beds of poppy seeds flourished with a huge array of annual weeds enthusiastically trying to choke the seedlings.

The constant carrying of gardening tools to and from the allotment was not conducive to keeping a clean car interior, so the offer of an old shed was accepted gratefully and it was established at the bottom left of the plot in the shade of the thick hawthorn hedge. The old Belfast bricks that had been strewn haphazardly all over the plot were stacked neatly into a pile alongside the shed, waiting to be laid as a rustic path to the shed door.

As the season advanced and work continued, dramatic changes began to take place at the plot. Gone were the broken fences, rubble, carpets and weeds. The poppies in the top beds along the picket fence burst forth with huge double flowers in deep purples, pinks and reds; 

and in front of the poppies - Borage with fragile blue and pink star-shaped flowers. 

As the petals fell from the poppies so the sweetpea began to bloom.

Different coloured nasturtiums in yellow, oranges and reds scrambling along the wire fence and through the raspberry canes brought splashes of colour amongst the greenery. The air was full of the scent of the herbs and the sound of the honey bees buzzing as they swarmed around the herb beds gathering the nectar.

Peas clambered over twiggy pea sticks and runner beans began to climb, twisting and entwining around the bamboo canes. Fat pods swung merrily from the broad beans and the plump bright green lettuces remained virtually unscathed from slug damage.

The rhubarb suddenly had a spurt of growth and to my joy both the apple trees had born fruit. To my dismay a few weeks later, the little apples on the Bramley tree dropped one by one, until there were none. "June drop" was the diagnosis. However the branches of the Cox's Pippin tree were laden with fruit, drooping over with the weight of the growing apples.

Raspberry canes that for weeks had disappointingly looked sickly and feeble came to life seemingly almost overnight; the yellowy leaves turning a luscious green as berries ripened surreptitiously amongst the foliage.

It was less than a year since the allotment adventure had begun and already it was evolving into the vision I had on the first day. However I was under no illusions - there was still a long way to go!


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Work Commences

Once the legalities of the contracts and payments were completed, every spare evening and weekend was spent at the allotment. The first task was to clear the plot of all the debris of old carpets and rubbish. Taking advantage of an Indian summer; pausing only occasionally to surreptitiously sample a few luscious raspberries plucked from the canes leaning temptingly over the fence from the neighbouring plot, the surface rubbish was gathered up and disposed of via many wheelbarrow trips to the skip.

The removal of old carpet was more labour intensive than at first realised. Put down many years ago for the purpose of suppressing weeds, the carpets had been overpowered by both air-born annual weeds on top and thugs of weeds growing with vicious propensity through the carpet from underneath, thus welding it in a vice-like grip to the soil. An unwelcome discovery was made once the carpet had been prised from its captors.

An alien-like organism (bearing a vague resemblance to asparagus) was exposed growing prolifically throughout the plot. This turned out to be none other than Horsetail. Unchecked on the allotment for years, this weed - with roots that can grow over seven feet below ground and that will reproduce not just by spores, but with only a fragment of the parent plant breaking is virtually impossible to eradicate.

Undaunted (perhaps rather naively) by the virulent horsetail, some serious back breaking digging was required  before railway sleepers and scaffolding planks were installed to make beds terraced down the sloping plot. 

A picket fence was erected to replace the broken one.

A young Bramley Apple tree was the first to be planted in the freshly dug soil.

Then, as the digging continued and more beds were established down the plot, rhubarb, raspberry canes (soon there would be no need to sample the forbidden fruit from next doors plot!) and a Coxs pippin Apple tree were also added.

The allotment was taking starting to take shape!


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

In The Beginning

Let me take you back in time to when the letter arrived one autumn morning with the allocation of Plot No 15. That same evening I took my first foray into the magical world of allotments.

Turning off the noisy, busy road away from the rush hour traffic, a gateway led into another little known world of tranquility. A narrow grassy lane with high shadowy hedges hid from view oases of abundance and produce.

Fruit trees reached out their branches and their leaves brushed against the sides of the car as we edged slowly forward into this unfamiliar lush sanctuary. Bordering the lane, Red Hot Pokers and poppies provided a splash of colour  against the greenery.

The lane came to a halt and turning left we were enclosed either side by roses & raspberry canes marking the boundaries of more plots. The plots on the right were larger and sloped steeply towards the railway embankment. Exiting the car our nostrils were assailed by the heady scent of a profusion of sweet pea clambering vigorously over a fence of wire netting. It was a dusky balmy evening; ethereal rays of the sinking autumn sun filtered through tall trees; the allotments were deserted and silent apart from the sweet song of the blackbird.

Plot No 15 was instantly apparent. Across the lane from the sweet pea fence and surrounded either side by lovingly tended bounteous havens; 

partially enclosed by an old broken down fence was a sad neglected piece of ground.

The only bounty on offer was a covering of weeds knee high.

Old carpet; polythene; broken flag stones & bricks lay strewn amongst the weeds. One thing was for certain - this was going to be a challenge!

As the blackbird continued his song; undeterred by the work ahead, I conjured up visions of winding paths, heavily laden fruit trees, delicious peas scrambling through twiggy pea sticks, fragrant herb beds, old-fashioned roses and sweet pea clambering over picket fences.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Time Out

My life has escalated into one frenetic whirlwind of doing; of sowing, sewing & soaping (not to mention "sawing" and "salvaging" at the Renovation Project!). Whirling from one thing to the next I never seem to have time to look around me and absorb the here and now. However now that at least the busy time at the allotment has passed it can be left to get on with producing whilst we reap the rewards of the harvest.

Thus I have decided to take a little time out to -

smell the roses;

the chamomile;

the lavender;

and to enjoy the fruits of my labours before my next busy time of year begins with the onset of the Fairs.

(It is now over two months since my much-loved friend and her other half disappeared over the horizon along with the restored French furniture, back to her family and homeland down under, so this little blog is for her to keep in touch with how the good life is continuing back here in the rather soggy UK.)