From plot to place: allotments benefit from a bit of character

Words can’t describe how much I love my allotment this year. It feels to me as though it has morphed into its own place, a destination for me to exist rather than a factory for toil and tasks. I don’t know why it feels this way this year but I can guess; perhaps because some areas have become fixed features like my mini orchard or dahlia strip, that some plants are maturing and larger, or over the last five years I’ve gradually stamped my ideas into existence, giving it a character I enjoy. Whatever the reason for this change, I can say it feels better for it to me, like a bubble of unreality – my own imagined place – that I can enter and leave whenever I need it. And this week I really needed it.

My prairie bed always draws me in first, tending to check it when I arrive and soon finding I have to tear myself away to do something useful. It has a colour scheme that is extremely subtle, looking best in person because photos never capture its tones (my photos anyway). Its soft pale greens and even softer textures from all of the grasses give it a comforting feel, always changing as new things pop up here and there, ever exciting.

Undoubtedly the shed has had the biggest impact, a perfect place to shelter in the rain and visually forming an anchor around which everything else is linked. I love having the scented herbs close to it and the little barriers of stepover apples marking the line between one area and the main vegetable beds. Filled now with broadbeans, salad crops, potatoes and many other seeds growing or waiting to. Today I sowed sweetcorn direct, watering in for quick germination to escape naughty mouths of mice.

The herb bed is filling out with some luxurious sweet Sicily, given to me by my friend Ginny, and Angelica archangelica. I like to stand on the narrow brick path in the warm sun soaking up the scents on dry air. Filling me with sensory comfort, a fragrant medicine of sorts for its distraction and memory trip reminders. I stroked the beautiful large mat of thyme for wafts and admired the self sown salsify from a previous crop.

Among the herbs today I spotted what looked like a gigantic ladybird larvae, is it one? At 2cm long it looks far too big to morph downscaled into a tiny ladybird.

Next door in the Angelica, laden with pollinators I spot two ladybirds bonking, proving opposites really do attract. Leaving them to it I ruffled my face in the scent filled flower heads, heady and relaxing.

Chives are a wonderful all rounder, aren’t they? Easy on the eye, easy on the plate and easy to grow.

My late sown broadbeans erupted in last week’s rain so quickly that full grown pods have appeared where I swear they didn’t exist at all only five days prior. A little ritual of mine is to pick that first pod and eat the beans fresh there and then, nourishment for the soul.

Down in my ‘meadow’ experiment at the opposite end to the shed, the colours are appearing, extraordinary colours, rich and enlivening. I can already see one group will be a wonder later this week. My seed grown Knautia macedonica have popped open the first of the electrifying maroon flowers next to two Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ reminding me of a clown’s face – all they need is a mouth.

The ‘meadow’ has filled out so quickly in the last week with many plants ready to pop. I’m hoping the Nigella will open in time to partner with the alliums, it will make a beautiful combination. My task in the next week is to finally tidy away the rubbish in this area so it looks joined up, proper like. I haven’t shown the full area very often because there are still pieces of old carpet and wood in view, not that any of that has bothered me as, who cares, but it’s not exactly photogenic. It’s such luck to have Lysimachia atropururea ‘Beaujolais’ plants in the mix this year, self sown from plants I grew from seed about three years ago now. I thought they’d died out and were long gone, yet here they are.

All week I’ve been feeling detached from the natural world, trapped here in London in lockdown. I’m not complaining as it’s no hardship to me but I do miss being able to visit my favourite wild spots to see plants and wildlife in their full wondrous abundance. My mind doesn’t cope well without enough inputs to bounce its thoughts back into place. Yet here on my allotment, I have created a place that is beautiful to me, with enough character I find comforting and rewarding. There are many points of interest, renewing with each passing week and plenty of wildlife too.

My allotment is very productive, with asparagus, lettuce, rhubarb and broadbeans the current crops. To me though, I needed it to be more than that, I gave it fixed elements too, a gooseberry hedge, fig tree, raspberries rows, compost heaps and pond. The overall layout I thought over carefully and the resulting impact my hands have had on the soil across five years has, bit by bit, turned my allotment from the patch it was, into this place. I think it’s that combined with the little choices each day, the colour of a flower, the position of a herb, the gentleness of the odd scruffy corner – allowing our own personalities into a plot, that’s what brings out the character we grow to love.

One thought on “From plot to place: allotments benefit from a bit of character

  1. My first trip abroad was Denmark. Family name. Rasmussen. They had amazing gardens and 6’x8’ greenhouses and sheds in “allotments”. Never heard of them till then. Lupine next to corn. Came home, built a greenhouse, it stepped 2 stairs down as in 🇩🇰. A few years later I find your place on Monte Dons show, Netflix. I started following you. Since that time I’ve learn2 new things: 1st, I’m not Danish, but rather more British via moms maiden name Bodley, as in the Bodleian Library at Oxford; 2nd, I enjoy your allotment as a virtual haven. And I learn the Latin names of plants from your posts.

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