Urban gardener: Another day on the plot

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The Independent Online


Another day on the plot

Like most self-employed, the freedom outweighs the anxiety of finding the next job, but a mid-week visit to the allotment still feels like bunking off school. This limbo period, therefore, between Christmas and New Year, is a great time to catch up with all the things that have been sitting on the back burner for so long that there's a danger of them evaporating completely into the post-festive ether.

I've already mentioned new structures for espaliers and compost heaps. We'll also try to give our sheds a lick of black paint that will not only preserve them from the elements, but also remind our allotment committee about their promise to tone down a brand new summerhouse that sits on the communal plot next door. Currently it shines like an exhibition stand at a flower show, not really in keeping with the ramshackle character of the place. Other than that there are three main jobs and one frivolous indulgence (which might raise eyebrows if you're caught doing it alone as I was a few years ago), but more of that in a minute.

To start with, the GBH inflicted on a large blackberry thicket a week or two ago must be completed. While it provided important cover for birds it also gave refuge to a family of rabbits. It also gave a nucleus of bindweed the opportunity to take unfair advantage of my hare-brained experiment to see if weeded roots of convolvulus can grow in the restrictive shade of the bramble thicket. They can. Cutting a swathe through the centre will not only allow us to get on top of the problem (yeah right), but in theory will allow us to pick more fruit once it has recovered from the butchery.

New raised beds are second on the list but much will depend on what sort of timber I can get hold of. When I had a van this was never really a problem as there were always skips to raid and loft converters to keep me well supplied. Now I have downsized to a car, my gypsy-like tendencies have been curtailed so I may have to actually buy my timber. The current timber frames are almost eight years old and rotting badly now. Not a huge problem visually but the crevices are perfect hiding places and nursery voids for slugs and snails. I'd also like to convert one row of 3m x 3m beds into 1.2m strips that will make it easier to manage a no-dig method. This is largely inspired by Charles Dowding's brilliant book, Organic Gardening: The Natural No-dig Way (Green Books, 10.95), which has become a bit of a veg-growing bible in our household.

The last, and probably the most daunting task, as it means a hideous amount of digging, is to create a new herb bed. Rosemary, sage, lavender and oregano at the front of the plot have got a bit cheeky and, while its chaos makes an effective redoubt against gatecrashers and litter blowing in from the adjacent footpath, I feel I should be able to make more sense of it.

One thing that will distract me from all of the above is snow and, in particular, making snowmen. It may sound like an odd departure for a gardener but making snowmen has become something of a tradition at the allotment. It came about by accident during an unexpected snowfall and seeing a pile of bird-seed morph into something that resembled a miniature figure. Inspired, I found that small snowmen (using the bird seed for eyes, buttons etc) were quick and easy to create, and that their size and transience made them all the more charming, a bit like a cross between Antony Gormley's Field figures and the ephemeral nature of Andy Goldsworthy's work. While they have nothing whatsoever to do with gardening, they always get the biggest laughs at garden lectures and we even drew a crowd once making them in Central Park, New York.

Gardeners are just as entitled to comic relief as anyone else, so if snow looks likely this winter (it rarely falls in London so we have to make the most of it when it happens) I urge you all to forget your inhibitions, ignore those not so important "to do" lists and have some fun. I guarantee it will be the best tonic you'll get all year.



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