Well it’s the tail end of spring now and after a frantic ten days of weeding, feeding and planting out after our break in Cornwall, the allotment is looking rather fine, we think. If you’re a regular you’ll know that over the past couple of years we’ve moved towards creating a more wildlife friendly allotment, hoping to attract many more pollinators and interesting insects. There are rules, however, because we’re not allowed to dedicate more than 25% of the plot to flowers, and we’re not allowed what are termed “non fruiting trees” Who’s definition of fruit?” – you might well ask; bearing in mind that a hungry bird in winter or a rare butterfly looking for its larval food plant might have different ideas of what constitutes a fruit or a weed.
When we took on the allotment we decided to create beds around 4’6″ wide, in blocks of two or four- fitted with corner posts so we could net them with 10’x10′ nets on frames with a 12″ path dividing them. This left a number of narrow borders at the edges which amount to much less than 25% of the total space and which we have used to grow herbs and wildflowers. Last year we added a pond with its own surrounding border. Wild (ish) borders feature tall herbs like lovage and Angelica interplanted with Foxglove and Sunflowers which we use to give a degree of wind protection from the East and South West. At their feet are self-seeded marjoram, plus Thyme, Tarragon, Dill and Fennel and five varieties of Mint all in pots to stop them spreading – although we move them around the plot for their capacity to distract Carrot Fly, Allium Leaf Miner and Asparagus Beetle. Two more of the borders have been planted up with fruit trees – cordon apples, plum and damson on dwarfing rootstock; and there’s a large fruit cage with red and blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries with commercial blackberry near the fence which is just gathering strength. Then there are Borage, Catnip, Margolds, Lemon Balm and Rosemary. I’m sure I’ve left some out. We welcome volunteers and there’s a Buddleia which moved in and which we’ll keep under control to evade the eagle eye of the Allotments Officer. We have our star guest – the Tall Ramping Fumitory which moved in four years ago and which is the only example in the entire Bath area – so we’ll be keeping an eye on it.
As to whether it’s working as a wildlife garden our only answer is that it’s costing a fortune in field guides. The Mint Moth, for example, encouraged us to buy a standard guide on moths which was lovely but we didn’t know that moths are split into macro and micro species. That necessitated another guide plus the one I bought three years ago. So you might argue that the principal beneficiaries of the wildlife garden are the publishers of field guides who are now £100 better off. On the other hand there are vastly more visitors – damselflies, dragonflies and hoverflies, frogs, snails, butterflies and moths – most of which we still can’t name. They add immeasurably to the pleasure of the allotment – although we haven’t – never will – reach the glory of the Leicestershire garden belonging to Jennifer Owen. I once tried to buy her book but it’s long out of print and costs a fortune. Her Wikipedia entry includes this –
In thirty years of study she recorded 2,204 insect species in her own garden while also finding 20 species new to Britain and six which were previously undescribed. She wrote a book on the study, Wildlife of a Garden: A Thirty-Year Study. As well as the insects she counted Owen grew over 400 different plant species to determine the best food for the insects being tracked.Wikipedia entry.
I hope you like the photos – I’ll end with some taken of the plots when we first took them on in April 2016.