But we don’t live in an ideal world – even at the Potwell Inn, and so even photos like this are compromised by the fact that the last touch of sun from a beautiful day was just disappearing behnd the trees. On the other hand, when we went up in the morning to plant the last few potatoes, the sun was reaching the whole of the plot after its winter sleep. Roughly speaking it reaches all parts directly between the two equinoxes, which means that for the whole of the growing season we’re no worse off for sun than our neighbours at the top of the slope and much better protected from the wind all year round. Prospective allotmenteers often reject the plots at the bottom of the site, especially if they come in mid winter with the ground frozen hard, and it’s worth remembering that it can take several seasons to get the measure of any piece of ground. I’m quite sure that real allotments – as opposed to the imaginary variety – all have their different challenges, and waiting for the perfect plot to come along is a recipe for never doing any gardening. Half the fun is knowing your patch of earth and working with it to produce some food. There’s an issue of mindset here – piece of ground isn’t a blank canvas, it’s a complex ecosystem that you can only join on its own terms. The saddest thing is when new allotmeteers take on a plot, blitz in in spring and sow or plant anything and everything only to see the weeds reassert themselves and the crops fail in the sumer.
But to return to the starting point, I love flowers and I’d dearly love to grow more of them but with limited space it’s a matter of priority to grow food and so our compromise is to grow as many beautiful insect and bee attractors as we can.
These are lifted from Ken Thompson’s excellent book “The Sceptical Gardener” –
- Of the lavenders Hidcote Giant is shown as better than Hidcote
- Erisymum linifolium ’Bowles Mauve’ (Wallflower) – best for butterflies
- Echinops – Globe Thistles
- Catmint – ‘Six Hills Giant’
- Agastache foeniculum – Giant Hyssop
- Echium vulgare – Vipers Bugloss
- Salvia verticillata – Lilac Sage, Whorled Clarey
The photo at the top of the posting is of our globe artichokes which, with a bit of luck will flower this year. Yesterday we were casting around for somewhere to plant three angelicas we’d raised from seed and they can grow to very tall plants so they needed to be somewhere they wouldn’t stifle the neighbours. It’s a gamble but I though the two old toughies could fight it out between them. We grew angelica in a previous garden and it self-seeded freely for several years and then disappeared, but it’s a lovely flowerhead that attracts insects (like all its cousins in the Apiaceae) and better still, the stalks are edible. I’m desperate to make a bit of crystallised angelica for the Christmas sherry trifle!
So flowers that attract pollinators and that you can eat are a double whammy. We scour the books looking for likely companion plants, and grow herbs wherever we can. We’ve got two specific herb beds one for tall ones and the other for short ones – drrr – not exactly Gertrude Jekyll but it works for us, and that’s all that matters. Last week we spent a happy hour just chewing herb leaves – how sad is that? There’s an empty patch in the herb bed where we’re hoping last year’s begamot will eventually wake up and show its head but who knows?
The chillies, aubergines and peppers are all roaring along in the propagators and will have to be displaced this week by the tomatoes. Hello summer, goodbye floorspace! And we ‘solved’ the oversupply of seed potatoes by planting all the Red Duke of York in big bags and pinching half a bed for the Sarpo Mira. We even found time to have an afternoon snooze in the sunshine – the very essence of allotmenteering.