My Allotment: month 1 – preparation and planning

I’ve had access to my allotment for a month now giving me time to assess it, ready about half of it for planting and to make plans. It’s been cared for by the same person for over a decade I believe, and the soil appears to be a lovely, rich clay loam.

Here’s the plan for 2016

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  • Three long beds 14 meters long, 1.4 meters wide to maximise growing space with 50cm wide paths for access – just wide enough to squeeze a small wheelbarrow down. They run East to West and will get a lot of sun in summer.
  • Each bed will be divided into growing areas to allow for a 5 year crop rotation to really help reduce pests and disease while maintaining a good soil nutrient balance.
  • The large rectangle in the bottom left is a 3 meter x 5 meter ornamental bed because I want to practice garden design. I’ll use this to experiment with different plant and colour combinations.
  • Room for three 1 meter x 1 meter compost bins because this will be essential to maintain an organic, healthy site. In practice, one will be full and composting across 6 – 9 months, the second will be for turning and the third for filling ready to be composted later.
  • Down the left hand side is an existing 6 metre long row of raspberry canes and a grape vine which I will keep as we love raspberries.
  • Space for a future green house if I can ever afford one for propagation (and maybe some cheeky hardy carnivorous plants 😉 )

Originally I was going to go with a different plan with lots of beds running side by side. I was advised by a gardener called Steve on Gardener’s Corner to go with the new plan, and I’m really glad he did. My first plan – taking bed rotation too literally – would have been a mistake, wasting space with unnecessary paths and a nightmare for maintenance, going in and out of each bed.

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What I’ve done so far

In the first month I’ve bought some new tools, some bags of manure and over Christmas I planned the veg and fruit I want to grow, ordering all of the seeds in the sales.

Otherwise it’s all been about weeding, which I’ve enjoyed. I tracked the progress below:

When I arrived

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Week 1

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Week 2

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Week 3

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Seed catalogue excitement!

All of the weeding I have done using a hand fork on my knees. It sounds like hard work but actually, I found it much easier than using a large fork. It meant I could get each weed out properly without leaving roots that will regrow, and the large fork was clumsier, hiding weeds under turned earth and actually hurt my back more.

About half of the plot is now cleared and two of the 14 meter beds are ready for mulching and planting in spring. Whoop!

Challenges to conquer

You can’t see very clearly from the photos that there is a lot of stuff to clear from the site.

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I’ll need to get help with this because I don’t have a car to take it away. Some of it will prove useful as there appears to be a handmade cold frame and lots of posts and poles. The little shed looks like it might collapse but has been an incredibly handy gift from the previous tenant for storage.

Beyond clearance, the real challenge of course is that I’m a newbie to this and everything is a learning experience. I’ve never had so much land to look after before, and as such, have never grown such a large quantity and variety of plants all at once. I’ll no doubt make lots of mistakes in my first year.

The other big challenge is lack of time, the allotment is far enough from the house to mean I will only really be able to get down there at weekends.

Life as an Allotmenteer

December ladybird anyone? Incredibly mild weather.
December ladybird anyone? Incredibly mild weather.

A few weeks in and I am so grateful for having this allotment space. It’s been a bit of a lifeline really, as it allows me to progress as a gardener when I’d been met with brick wall after brick wall trying to volunteer in London on a weekend. The opportunity to grow so many more plants is mindbogglingly exciting. To put into practice my dream of growing my own, organic fresh produce … I still can’t believe it’s coming true.

Next month

I’ll go into more detail about the vegetables, fruit and flowers I’m planning to try growing this year (spoiler: there will be potatoes!)


If you have any tips or spot me doing anything wrong, please do tell me as I appreciate all advice.

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “My Allotment: month 1 – preparation and planning”

  1. You’re doing great, just found your blog via looking up reviews for Monty’s complete gardener book. I’m up north in all the wind and rain and everything in our garden is at a 45 degree angle till May, I would imagine…. Look forward to reading more posts!

    1. Thanks MrsWilson 🙂 I’ve just been down there again today and planted my little apple trees where I think they need to go to make step overs. Quite nerve wracking as I can’t really move them again now, but also can’t see the full layout because of all the junk.

      I’d be interested to hear more of your garden when it’s growing again in spring. Jack

      1. Wow, stepover apples, very adventurous – I think the fact you’re attempting that when you haven’t had your allotment long is a very good sign of the great things to come!
        I’m currently tree obsessed, we have three fruit trees, cherry , plum and pear, and wanting to get some more, apples in there too. I like the idea of creating a mini forest in the garden, with little primroses, bluebells etc underneath, and plants dotted around all over the place, rather than the traditional set up, but Hubbie likes his herbacious borders so I have to fight my corner!

  2. Looks like you lucked out there, Jack. When we took over our plot a couple of years back we had a similar weeding and clearing job on our hands, but ours had been neglected for about the past ten years by the three previous owners. It’s coming along though, slowly but steadily.

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