How to restore order on the plot and reassess expectations, tips for rhododendrons and a quince mystery. Losing control of the weeds on my allotment was a gradual process, strongly linked to creeping acceleration in my working life. By 2016, garden
tours and research trips littered the pages of my diary from March to October, while far-flung speaking engagements cropped up almost all year round.
On my plot, the weeds accelerated too, including virtually inoperable bindweed among the roses, brambles and rampant alien raspberry canes. By 2019, things had reached a tipping point and my motivation hit rock bottom. In April, I had a quick grapple with the worst of everything, pruned my picking roses, planted potatoes and shallots and then turned my back on the lot, hoping I would get back in the autumn to reap whatever benefits I could. I didn’t – and in my mind, I gave up. The shame was huge.
Despite the anxiety and sadness about the current horrors, for me lockdown (resulting in the cancellation of all tours and talks) has focused the mind – for so many gardeners, the simple uncomplicated pleasure of just being safe in our own much beloved, peaceful spaces is what enables us to tick.
But personally, there is only so much border-tweaking, precision-pruning and general hosta-polishing I can sanely do. So, encouraged by a friend, I returned to the Allotment of Horrors and am now flat out restoring order, safe in the knowledge that this season, like no other, I will be able to see things through. At the same time, I am adjusting my future expectations. Here are some thoughts to share.
Tough weeds (brambles, rogue raspberries, bindweed) were dug out, and the soil thoroughly turned over, burying as many annual weed seeds as deeply as possible. Soil in the crumbling raised beds was covered either very temporarily with weed-controlling, rain permeable Mypex or, for the longer term, all-smothering black plastic. In due course, re-emerging bindweed will get a lick or two of Roundup Gel.
Smaller gravel-board raised beds will gradually replace the crumbly ones. I will avoid using second-hand scaffolding boards (which rot too quickly). Soil within will be improved with compost and bagged manure before I plant anything.
3. What to grow
I will only grow veg I really like, those that will, to an extent, wait for me. Spuds are the best and most rewarding of crops and, along with onions and shallots, store well. Just two plants of purple sprouting broccoli will be given protection from pigeons from day one.
Fussing over rows of seedlings is, for me, a grovel too far. I will absolutely not be “letting the side down” by buying a few ready-grown veg plantlets. I have already sown beans in cells in my tiny greenhouse.