For reasons I’ve no intention of writing about, the perfume of wallflowers has the most powerful erotic overtones. This is probably the least written about aspect of gardening but it deserves at least a mention, not least since today one of our neighbours caught me on my hands and knees on her allotment, inhaling great draughts of the memory laden perfume. Madame knows all about this odd affliction so I’m not letting out any damaging secrets here, but if there are any enterprising perfumiers out there, you’ve definitely got one customer. However a lifetime of hearing confidences (and occasionally confessions), has taught me that erotic stimuli are as various as there are people. The oddest I ever heard was a female friend who fantasised about a mechanic with oily hands emerging from under a car and ravishing her. OK?
Anyway, to return to what passes for reality on the allotment, it won’t surprise you to know that the wallflowers (or Erysimum as they’re known by the RHS) are in flower. There’s a survey of the best bee attractors in Ken Thompson’s book “The Sceptical Gardener” which is an excellent read , and the plant Erysimum Bowles Mauve came at the top of the list. We always keep a few on the allotment and their reputation is absolutely deserved. The lavender variety Hidcote Giant also scores highest among the lavenders. Here’s the list in full.
MarjoramKen Thompson “The Sceptical Gardener”
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,
We have been gradually introducing all of these – and lots more – into the allotment. Today I planted out the lavenders and split the catmint into two while Madame interplanted herbs among the broad beans. Mainly, however, we were watering because it’s so very dry. Yesterday we moved the tomato plants into the greenhouse but a very cold morning knocked them about a bit so they’ve been moved into the polytunnel under a second set of hoops and fleece to recuperate.
During the winter I did a lot of thinking about the design of the plot – partly because we’d resolved to make insects and wildlife a priority, but also because parts of the design made it downright difficult to keep up with necessary work. There’s a whole permaculture philosophy centred on what are called “zones”. The general idea is that different parts of a permaculture setup are zoned according not just microclimates and suchlike, but also proximity. In a conventional house and garden, the house is zone 0 and the garden is zone 1. It would be easy to think that therefore permaculture principles don’t (or can’t) apply to allotments which are always some distance away. However, we noticed that our first row of cordon trees were always vaguely neglected because it was so difficult to get to them. They were inside and much too close to the edge of the fruit cage. So this winter we simply moved the side of the fruit cage inwards and left the cordons outside it. Six months on and they’ve never looked happier. They’re in full bud; properly pruned and mulched and generally better looked after because every time we walk past them we can take a close look and take any remedial action that’s necessary.
It’s worth bearing accessibility in mind when you’re designing a plot. We’ve moved the strawberries three times in five years for exactly the same reason. Now we’re growing them in the polytunnel in hanging baskets and they’re in flower and looking blissfully happy. Incidentally we were asked today by a visitor why we talked about our plants as if they were little people. Our answer was “because they are” – which she found almost as difficult to understand as she did when we talked about them being happy. All I can say is – just ask the Nepetas that I split and moved today, if they’re happier after six weeks in the sun, after a year on the north side of the shed.
One last point. It’s commonly thought that gardeners are all amiable, peace loving and non competitive beings. This is not true. We allotmenteers take a keen interest in everyone else’s allotment because we can’t bear to let them get one over on us. It’s a useful sort of competitiveness because it drives up standards across the whole site. A similar competitive spirit has fallen upon us since one of our neighbours started building a magnificent seat and shelter on a plot nearby. I had given up the idea of building a similar structure earlier in the year due to lack of time and funds, but now I’m dreaming of trellises, dog roses and festoons of clematis surrounding our own little shelter. Naturally we congratulated him on his magnificent work through gritted teeth, even while plotting pagoda revenge.
Every day closer to May 10th brings us nearer to removing the last of the fleece, planting the tomatoes into the ground and moving the container potatoes out into the allotment to embrace the sun and grow fat and slick and full of flavour. We’ve cut the first asparagus, but we always throw it on to the compost because it tends to be bitter – possibly through slow growth. By the end of next week it will be in full flush; and speaking of flushes, the two mushroom logs undercover behind the shed are at last showing signs of producing a crop of shitake and oyster mushrooms- if the little white excrescences on the logs are anything to go by.