Sunday, 7 August 2011

Could this be my future? (part 1)

Or: A day at the allotments

The biggest surprise: flowers! Every allotment had them - a few were more traditional, but still had the odd companion plant, but most were filled with colour.

Overnight it rained a lot. Intense pulses, battering the roof, overflowing the gutters. This morning was grey, with a chill breeze. Why did this matter? Well, it was the open day for a large allotment site within walking distance of my house, and I'd wanted to go. Last year I meant to, but didn't, so when I saw a poster in the window of the local post office, it reminded me, and I searched online. The most important one is in a week's time, but today was another - not so close, but still easily walkable, on the other side of the park at the edge of town. I decided to take a chance - and I am so glad I did...

This cabbage is perfect - probably thanks to the mesh.

I've never set foot on an allotment before. Shameful, isn't it? Well, of course, the open days are only once a year, and they generally seem closed worlds, where the lucky ones can enjoy a second life filled with fresh, homegrown produce, albeit one governed by esoteric rules enforced by aged, humourless men. I know things have changed a little - younger people have started going - even women! - and not everyone is a retiree. Still, I was not prepared for what I found behind the high hedgerow and steel fences...

A gorgeous, deep maroon sunflower - I meant to grow these myself this year, but didn't get round to it. Next year they are a must!

There were several paths leading into the site from the entrance. I took the rightmost one. Immediately, I was confronted by what looked like a garden - somewhere between a cottage garden and a smallholding. It was big - and full of flowers, mixed in with the vegetables. A low fence ran between it and the path, so I could take lots of photos - and the owners were there chatting to people about it. I carried on, and plot after plot surprised me, with their size, and the variety of what I found.

This plot was deserted and secluded. I lingered. Here are some wonderful lilies.

Some of the plots, including the one the lilies above were growing in, were a bit messy. No worse than my own garden, and clearly regularly tended (raised beds of potatoes, tomato- and chilli-filled greenhouses, flowers and vegetables thriving), but with weeds, overgrown corners, bits of junk. They were lived in. Others were nearly pristine - laid out more formally, neatly trimmed and weeded. Some were larger than others, but all were full of vegetables, flowers, and interest. Most had at least one greenhouse - some had as many as three. And the greenhouses themselves ran the gamut from small aluminium-framed domestic models, to massive timber structures, and even some that looked like they'd been thrown together from whatever the owners could find. Tomatoes were ubiquitous, but so were chillies, peppers, and cucumbers.

So many leeks! I was intrigued by how closely these were planted - dense cropping is a must when space is at a premium.

Just as varied was the methods of growing those tomatoes - some had their leaves stripped, some were rampant. Most were still green, some already red, others yellow. I didn't see any more exotic kinds, but there was every size from currant to beefsteaks larger than two fists together. Some were in beds, some in pots, there were shelves, different supports, different watering systems. It was fascinating - it's very easy to get stuck in your ways, even if you read about other people's methods and experiences. Seeing it in action - and how every technique seemed to work - was an inspiration.

Continued in part two...

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