Allotment Month 34: happy herbal, apple disaster, persistent prairie

Often I beat myself up about the state of my allotment, it never quite looks as good as those picture perfect ones I see in magazines – everyone else seems a million times better at getting their crops in neat lines and eradicating every weed. How do you do it?! But today, I’m allowing myself a pat on the back because the plot, like a supersized tanker slowly turning, is getting closer to being on course. I looked out, breathed in and felt a moment of autumnal calm.

Slow and steady wins the race

With only a couple of hours a week to spend by myself on the allotment I know it will take a good few more years before everything is under control. I take it one step at a time and I think that’s the best advice to everyone, don’t feel down by set backs. Chip away with each visit and eventually you’ll stand back to think – as I did today – “you know what, it’s getting there”.

Despite an awful summer of drought setting lots of plants back, looking out from my mini orchard, the allotment wasn’t as overrun with weeds as it was last year. The orchard trees looking truly battered but alive with a nice lawn beneath. We had a touch of frost in the week, I could tell because the squashes, courgettes and dahlias were a little blackened, though not completely.

Stepover apple tree disaster

One of the best things this year has been eating apples from the stepover apple trees I planted three years ago and have been carefully training. All of my efforts actually worked! Each apple a little piece of magic somehow appearing. Even now, after eating about twenty, holding these light, crisp things is a wonder. Which made it all the more gutting when…

… this week I found one of the branches had been snapped clean off! Mega sad face emoji 🙁 I’m guessing during the heavy winds something must have blown and struck it. Though this is really upsetting, I believe it’s a sign of gradually growing as a gardener that I’m not as bothered as I would have been a year or two ago. I know how apple trees work now and I know I will be able to regrow a new branch. It may take two years before it will crop again but by the end of next summer it will be back. Today I cleaned the torn wound by cutting back nearer to the trunk with a neat cut.

Happy herbal

OK, my herb bed may not look like much right now in that picture but there is a lot going on here and all to plan. I like to grow as much from seed or plugs as possible to see and understand how plants grow, also to adapt them to my space. My herb bed now has borage, salsify, parsley, sage, rosemary, chamomile, sweet Sicily, thyme, calendula, nasturtium (which is going, it’s too big!) and echinacea. On warm days it smells beautiful and more will be added next year. There is a loose design to this which should become more apparent next summer.

Vegetables in September

I’ve had a few losses this year with the salad crops struggling with my lack of watering, lettuce bolted and tomatoes have had ups and downs. I lost a lot of brassicas to the heat when young – the worst loss being my trusty purple sprouting broccoli – but have enough kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts to see us through winter.

Ruby chard is going well and I’ve sown winter salad crops in the last fortnight to also see us through the colder months. Our French and runner beans are still cropping even now, they’re amazing plants. Meanwhile carrots are all good and parsnips are bulking up. I sowed lots of turnips but what happened to these I have no idea, I can’t see any sign of a plant!

Onwards and upwards

Standing on my allotment today, assessing everything I started to build upon my plan from last year to make the plot look better and to be more manageable. As I looked the answer came to me: “I’m gonna design the shit out of this” and I have a plan to plant up all weed hiding spots with ornamental flowers to attract pollinators and to make the place more enjoyable for me.

My prairie bed (above) is in its third year and doing well. Plants are all alive and dandy if not as beautiful as they should be in a normal year that actually has some rain. At the other end of the allotment I’ve started replacing my cut flower bed partially with a drought tolerant perennial meadow inspired by the likes of Piet Oudolf but a bit different. This is fun but also, I hope, will block off a bunch of weeds reducing work for me.

With frosts already here, which is stupidly early for London, this may have been the last day before lots of the plot gets shut down for winter. Til then, I’m going to enjoy my number one weed suppressors for a little longer: dahlias.

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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.

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2 thoughts on “Allotment Month 34: happy herbal, apple disaster, persistent prairie

  1. Before our big life change, Jack, we had three allotments and we grew a lot of flowers both in a cut flower bed (part of my 12-bed (!) rotation plan), in a bed of permanent perennial flowers, but also dotted around everywhere, eg species caucuses under a row of grapevines, loads of nasturtiums, marigolds etc. The “old boys” found it all rather strange but it looked lovely. Good for you!

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