Pure luck. A ‘just to put my name on the waiting list‘ enquiry for a village allotment plot, resulted in my delightful custodianship of plot 10b. Despite thickly matted, triassic couch grass, set in inhumanely rock hard soil, the attachment was immediate. Just over 10 square rods, the possibilities for this little patch are endless, and it all starts here…
Delightfully located on the edge of the village, overlooking the fields and countryside beyond, the Satin Lane allotments are a true community treasure. First established in 1925 on then Christ Church Oxford owned land, with just a handful of plots, the allotments have grown to accommodate the current 47 plot maximum. Endearingly, these village plots have been worked over generations, where third generation allotmenteers are still diligently working the plots today. Not surprisingly, these generational plots boast the finest of tilth, much to the envy of the rest of us. Especially for this rookie with rocks for soil, direct sowing is but a dream….
Beautifully, nothing on this patch of allotment land is straight or level. The site gently slopes down to the fields, and plot size and shapes vary substantially. To protect the valuable contents within from marauding deer, rabbits, hares and badgers venturing in from the fields, a charismatic array of homespun fences have sprouted, adorned with climbing veg and flowers.
Gardening outside the confines of one’s own garden is interesting. Acclimatised to the confined space of an (ex) walled garden, signing bad renditions of ‘I talk to the trees‘, the social connectedness that comes with an allotment is refreshingly inspiriting. Especially so, if one has just moved to a new village & community.
Gardeners are notorious for their generous gardening focussed conversations, and the allotment presents the perfect excuse for hearty horticultural exchange, quickly breaking down any social barriers. I can certainly see the value of allotments to encourage social inclusion and engagement, so valuable to a (village) community. Even if you’re there for just a short visit, there is always a conversation, a story, or a friendly wave from an afar plot. Age, nationality, economic status are of little consequence on the plot, rather the prowess of one’s cabbages and importantly the ability to sow in straight lines that counts…
As a rookie plot holder, the support has been wonderful. Kind advice, hands-on site assistance, seedlings to fill an empty plot, generous ‘veg subsidies‘ kindly bestowed on inspection of my (initially proud but deemed inferior) harvests (“otherwise they’ll just starve at your house”), has all been so gratefully received. Hopefully, it won’t be long until I can return the kindly bestowed generosity. One plot holder especially has been invaluable; plot maestro Mr Kevin Boss. Not only did Boss help break up my concrete soil with his array of snazzy rotavators, but also assisted a non-DIY damsel in distress to erect my deer fence (fortuitously recycled from the garden), along with my lovely shed1.
To act as the liaison between the parish council and the allotment plot holders, in 2008 the allotment society was set up by our current chair Lynda Lake-Stewart, whom with a 5 strength committee has worked wonders to develop the site. Since 2008, the site has been cleared to accommodate the current plot maximum, provide water troughs, ensure the site and plots are well maintained, and of course unite new plot holders and expectant plots.
Not surprisingly, just a tiny percentage of plot holders are under 50, which is cause for concern for the allotment committee, but it is wonderful to see the local school and pre-school children regularly venture onto the plots for school expeditions. Thereby hopefully, planting a few cognitive seeds for future generations to take on an allotment. Next time, I hope I can make it up to the little chap whom was rather disappointed at my lacking as to growing bananas.
Along with village gardens, the allotments have also been ‘opened’ to the public for charity and local festivals, where they have inspiringly provided Pimm’s to the punters to further enlighten their safaris through the allotments. I believe this proved rather popular, even more so than the garden tea & cake stands, which may be something for the NGS to take into account…
Soil says no
The plan is to grow veg, some fruit but especially flowers. The latter will include perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs, to as Sarah Raven puts it so befittingly, ‘service the house‘2.
Starting off (with a patch of couch grass) is not without its challenges. The biggest though is containing one’s own excitement and rationalising the taunting dreams of bountiful harvests. Obviously, I committed the textbook blooper by ordering mountains of seed, to awaken to the harsh reality of rock hard, spade impenetrable soil. Clearing the site is a mammoth task, bringing one swiftly to the realisation that clearing and ‘soil cleaning’ is first on the agenda, with possibly the tiniest prospect of growing just a few hardworking crops. That is, crops that won’t mind the harsh conditions, or like the good old potato help the soil cleaning process along. Sorrowfully, my seed mountain has been carefully stowed away in a cool, dark location awaiting their much anticipated emergence.
My saving grace came in the form of substantial meterage of thick, weed suppressing fabric, which after a few sessions with the mower went on to stay in situ for at least two seasons. The result is brilliant. Not weed free mind, but the resulting spade-able soil has been rendered workable to start clearing. My plot mantra is now very much ‘if you can’t deal with it, cover it‘…
With soil laced with clumps bigger than icebergs, crops were limited to tenacious veg; potatoes, heroic broad beans, corn on the cob (yet to mature) and Borlotti beans. The latter have not enjoyed their initial foray in the patch, refusing to climb at all, but kindly producing beans none the less.
Second sowings are currently maturing, with a few additions of pot sown cucumbers, tomatoes and a highly recommended Croatian chardy-spinach, called Blitwa. Incidentally, the tomatoes, which were an experiment have proved rather successful. With no greenhouse or polytunnel to speak of, and reports from fellow allotmenteers of blight incidences, growing tomatoes seemed an impossibility. However, the clever punters at Sutton’s have given birth to a blight-resistant variety, called Crimson Crush, which is performing well. Some sun wouldn’t go amiss to ripen the toms, but the handful harvested to date were delicious. There’s no denying that outdoor tomatoes do have a thicker skin, but they are still scrummy and it’s wonderful to be able to include them in my teeny harvest repertoire.
I believe it was the fervent ink slinger Mr Mark Diacono, who astutely wrote something along the lines of our needing to be thinking of our kitchen gardens with salivating anticipation otherwise something is seriously amiss3. Even though, I have yet to look forward to proper harvests to salivate over, there is absolutely no doubt that the anticipation is certainly here…
- If I had even a smidgen of Cleve West’s artistic shed-building acumen, I would have preferred to build my own. However, not really knowing which end of a hammer is up, I ventured to the ready-made and chose this rather bonny shed. If of interest, it’s made by the bright sparks at Forest Garden.
- Sarah Raven, The Cutting Garden, Frances Lincoln, 1996.
- ‘If you don’t make the walk from your garden to kitchen with salivating anticipation then something is amiss‘, Mark Diacono, A Year at Otter farm, Bloomsbury, 2014.