@AllotofPotential News

News from our family allotment plot in rural Warwickshire.

I can’t believe it was last October when I proudly exclaimed that our family had taken possession of a half plot down at the local allotment site. Since then time has flown.

As I write today, despite much more on the plot that still needs doing, I am more than happy with the progress we’ve made. Our aim from day one was to take things steady, a strategy reinforced by numerous allotment holders who warmly welcomed us to the community, and we’ve generally stuck to that strategy.

One of our nectar-bank plants, good old fashioned red hot poker 🐝

We have, I’m proud to say stuck with a ‘green’ approach to allotment gardening, which is by far the best option, and not just for the fact that we’re growing plants for consumption. The allotment, you see, is a complete oasis for nature, and you just can’t fail to feel it from the moment you pass through the gates.

When last on-site, as my car rolled to a stop on the grassy patch beside the plot, a charm of goldfinches fled from a hedge and along the gravelly track. A little later as I dug over the pumpkin patch, a robin whistled from atop an allotment shed, crows cawed, and as I sat for a break, a fly buzzed briefly under the eaves of a shed, shortly before it was enveloped by a resident spider.

Green gardening, therefore, just has to be the way, and we look forward to mastering the use of mulches, of using green manures, of growing in peat-free compost, and most definitely; of not using pesticides or weed killers.

Wildlife pond being assembled on an allotment
Wildlife pond under construction! 🐸

To support our pest control, and I’m not even sure if we’re allowed to call slugs and snails ‘pests’ any more, we have dug-in a wildlife pond. It’s a little way from completion but its function, beyond the visual appeal is to offer a home to toads or frogs, or anything else that will keep the slime brigade at bay. At least that’s the plan.

The pond is a simple hole with a roughly level upper edge, lined with cardboard and a plastic pond liner. We added a few cans of water to weight the liner down, then we left it to fill naturally and find its own upper level. In due course, as the pond finds that level, I shall tidy the perimeter edge and plant around.

White Colleen potato flowers
Colleen’ potatoes flowering nicely 🥔

But what of the crops you may ask? Well, to be honest it would be nice to be harvesting more of our own food by now, but we have at least ‘sown the seeds’ you could say. Usefully, there were some remnant crops left from the previous plot holders such as parsnips, carrots and potatoes, and those of course were put to good use in the kitchen. But aside from that, it’s been enough, on this allotment voyage of discovery and clearance, to have broken and tamed some ground, and to have established a system for growing.

In respect of our own crops for this year, we have ‘Colleen’ first-early potatoes that are pretty much ready to dig now, and these will be followed by ‘Mayan Rose’, ‘British Queen’ (that variety seemed appropriate given the Jubilee!) and lastly some ‘Cara’. Hopefully then we’re good for spuds for the months ahead.

On a sour note, a few brassicas bought late last season from the bargain bench at the garden centre haven’t worked so well. We had just cleared our first patch of ground and so, after an impulse purchase, in they went. They established very nicely but eventually in the cool early spring, some cabbage aphids moved in under the covers. It was so cold that lady bird larvae weren’t really getting about, birds couldn’t reach them to keep the aphids in check, and so a good few specimens had to be pulled up. Lessons learned.

Slow but sure, the brassicas are coming… 🥬

The ladybirds however are now out in force I’m glad to say, and I’m reassured that going forward, we’re in with a fighting chance! How different it would be had I reached straight for some spray – I’d likely have knocked out the ladybirds too.

Elsewhere, we’ve direct sown carrots – two varieties, parsnips and leeks, and planted onion sets too, which are all getting away very nicely. All that’s needed is some delicate weeding in between to keep the competition down, and crossed fingers in hope that the newly resident hare doesn’t take a fancy!

Numerous other things are being grown on in pots and trays at home and will, as more allotment ground becomes available, be planted over the coming weeks. I’d love to say planted over the coming days, but whilst the ground isn’t quite ready yet, the growth from seed to planting-out stage has been painfully slow this spring, some crops even started again using different composts to remedy the perplexing situation.

Good progress but there’s still a lot of potential!

So there we have it, two thirds of the way through our first allotment year. We have two nectar-banks and a wildlife pond establishing, we’re halfway through turning a very dense compost bin, plot edges are defined, approximately 70% of the ground has been turned/weeded and most importantly, we are growing our own food!

Despite the occasional sore back, dried hands and blisters, despite time never really being easy to find; the satisfaction is real. The feeling that we’re investing in our health and wellbeing, not withstanding the increase in chocolate consumption and after allotment beers; is real. I’d thoroughly recommend it!

Until next time, all the very best, Gary (+ Ruth & Co.) @allotofpotential

Garden Journal 6.2.22

Hello and welcome to my blog, if you have a few moments spare I hope you’ll stick around whilst I attempt to recall a few images and thoughts about my evolving world of gardening just now.

It has been a very peculiar two weeks I have to say, joining a brand new set of colleagues from across the country on day one of my new consultancy role. To say I have settled in might be stretching it a little, but I’m keeping up and from the outset have been given a very warm welcome.

There’s an awful lot to get my head around of course, but hopefully once I have properly understood the parameters around my role, I’ll feel more comfortable blogging about my work again. Having said that, I will refer to my new role in at least one of my memory jogging images below.

In the book corner, trying to categorise...
In the book corner, attempting to categorise…

My first image above comes with a sigh of relief, having finally regained my book collection from storage. Most of them have been boxed up for a year now due to a house move, and as such were piled high in a garage for a while, and then in a shed. Yes, all of my horticultural reference books, locked away out of sight, although not out of mind.

I don’t for a second think I’m unique but often, for one reason or another, I reach for a book to check facts, to gain perspective or trigger an idea. For them to be locked away for so long therefore has been something of a trial, almost as if a large part of my memory bank was down.

Next up is an image that is having to represent the first two weeks in my new role. OK, so it might not be one of my usual images of plants and gardens, but it’s no less relevant, and will be an important part of my work going forward which includes plant health and conservation.

It was taken during a week’s residential gathering with my new team, which coincided with my first week in post. In short, I’m standing in cleaned and disinfected boots, plus covers, and on regularly cleaned concrete. I was on location at biosecure plant centre, where I learned about important steps being taken to protect some of the most important plant collections in the country.

Rare plants, quarantined plants, difficult to propagate plants and most worryingly; “only one of its kind” sort of plants were discussed. Even being familiar with the type of work expected at a place like this, my eyes were truly opened to the challenges at this particular centre, which is essentially working to protect gardens from the growing threats of disease, pests and climate change.

I’ll say little more just now, but crikey what a place it was, with such an important role to play on behalf of our plants and gardens.

Moving on again, the following image was taken after a week of long days spent largely sitting down with a laptop; new days indeed. On Thursday evening, the weather was clear at the end of day and presented a much needed opportunity for a fresh air football kick-around with my eldest lad over at the park; in failing light.

Park Moon 🌙

The session held mutual benefits of course, and whilst the fresh air cleared my head, my attention became frequently drawn to the waxing crescent moon, which sat high above the all-weather pitches.

I know it’s not the best lunar shot you’ll ever see, but I’ve become more aware of the moon and its impact over the last few years and want to record it here. I’m a regular reader of Lia Leendertz’s Almanac, which serves as a good guide as to what the moon is up to, including offering gardening pointers as to what activity is best done in the garden during any given moon phase.

The Tudor Villagers Garden, Sulgrave Manor, where we began to work with moon planting.

Furthermore, a gardening buddy over on the gram ( @nutsaboutgardening ) has been posted some fabulous moon images of late, which warmly reminds me that I’m not the only gardener with a fascination of that big beautiful button in the sky.

In this moment, I’m also reminded of our efforts to establish moon planting as the norm for the Tudor Villagers Garden at Sulgrave Manor. (Pictured above). A modest start it might have been, but a concept I’m committed to learning more about and trialling over the coming years, and will be dabbling with over on the allotment this year.

Speaking of the allotment, after making a visit for the second weekend running, I’m glad to round off this weeks post with two shots and a very brief update from the plot.

We’re not set up for seed sowing as yet, but I have started to think about layout for the crops we’re intending to grow over the coming months. So far, after taking on the plot at the end of summer last year, we’ve weeded around and harvested a few veggies: potatoes, carrots, parsnips and some sprouts; all left, thankfully, by the previous plot holders.

Cardboard and weed sheeting, the battle continues!

We managed to clear enough ground in autumn so that we could plant some spring veg that were on offer at the garden centre. Then post Christmas we’ve continued to weed around the few remaining veggies and cleared more couch grass infested ground in anticipation of spring planting.

Yesterday we geared-up again and layed some large sheets of cardboard down, with a view to weakening the weed growth over the coming weeks. The cardboard didn’t go far, but the ground sheeting did, so in my book at least, we’ve layed foundations for some good battles going forward!

I’m certain that the weather will come to try us over the coming weeks, as around these parts especially, we haven’t yet experienced a winter to speak of. We shall though continue to move forward with the plot when we can, and if you are on Instagram, you’d be very welcome to follow our progress via @AllotofPotential.

Over at the allotment

So there we have it, two strange and fascinating weeks into a new hort’ role, some great progress over on the allotment, and a crescent of moon planting for good measure. Who knows what’s coming next!

All being well, I’ll be back on the blog within a fortnight, when hopefully both the allotment and my new role will be a little more established. Whatever you’re up to, I hope it includes loads of plants and fresh air!

Kind regards, Gary Webb, Gardening Ways.

Allot-of-Potential

This post is the first in a new allotment themed category that I’m excited to be sharing to my Gardening Ways blog. The thread of posts will track progress on a new allotment plot we’ve taken on which will be tended by my partner in ‘grime’ Ruthie and myself, and our two boys if we can entice or bribe them to play an active part too – good luck with that one did someone say?

Allotment newbs..

Garden Journal 11.9.21

Hello, and thanks for visiting my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week two new gardens requiring a good deal of work enter my life, and I’m uplifted by visits to two great Northamptonshire gardens: Kelmarsh Hall and Coton Manor.

New Garden News!

I promised in this blog to bring news of two new gardens that have arrived from left of stage. Due to their gravity I’ll cover both ‘projects’ independently below but in short, the first of the gardens has arrived because I’ve moved home to a brand new house with a wonderful blank-canvas garden. Secondly, after waiting in the queue, I’ve landed myself a half-plot at the local allotments!

Rose Gertrude Jekyll flowers in September
A potted Gertrude Jekyll survived the move 😅

As you’d imagine, I’m spinning with ideas as to the many different ways both these plots can be developed, and not at all daunted by the work ahead. Okay, maybe I fibbed about the last part! Nevertheless, I’m fully aware of the opportunities these two plots offer to literally put roots down, permanently in some cases, in gardens for the benefit of my family and those around, and of course for my own self!

Fifty Percent Foliage

In the main, I have to say that we as a family, not just I have moved house. Therefore you’ll have to forgive my distance from social media over the last few weeks as there has been a good deal of box packing and stress and of living in the moment – you know how it goes. We were so excited to get the thumbs-up after numerous postponements, but whilst we’re now in, it’s all rather strange.

As I type (starting at 7:45am,) the reversing beeps of the builders tele-handler continues to sound a short distance from the house, the JCB’s bucket scrapes tarmac, and other finished houses around us sit empty, awaiting visits from landscapers before they can be ‘signed off’. Flooring throughout the house is yet to be laid, and we continue to battle with our telecom provider for a useable system. Yet, the garden we’ve acquired is FABULOUS!

The deal with our last rented house meant that I needed to remove planted borders and reinstate to what we found eight years ago. This of course resulted in many, many potted plants that have since spring been tucked away in corners here there and everywhere, awaiting their move in date too. I even borrowed a hidden corner of the work’s garden where I stored a few car loads! The result is that on our moving day, the final van load was still fifty percent foliage and terracotta!

No time for photos, too busy carrying plants!

Now, in terms of the garden, it’s planted and turfed to the front, and entirely turfed to the rear but for some access paving tight to the house wall. The front is tidy, as you’d expect, and planted blandly into nasty looking imported soil, again as you’d expect – but it will keep. In my head I’m already peeling back the turf and imagining a pretty tree. Maybe a cherry, no, maybe an apple to make the space pretty and productive. Maybe a Cornus kousa, or Himalayan birch, or even a Musa to buck the trend! Again, it will keep, there’s so much else to think about and there’s no need to be hasty.

The back garden though is where some real potential lives. After what seems like a lifetime of restrictive growing, on the home front at least, it feels like at least we have some real opportunities here to create a proper, personal space independent of all others. Things are too busy just now but I’m keen to get sketching, to play with the spaces, and to finally get some of my cherished plants into proper soil – although this may take some work too!

New garden, room outside or football yard? There are differing opinions in the household!

I very much look forward to sharing the garden’s development of course, along with the bone jarring graft that lies ahead! (It’s going to be a steady one for sure…)

Allot[ment] of Potential


The other great gardening story of my moment is the acquisition of a half plot at a very special site nearby; Wellesbourne Allotments. It’s a long established site on a relatively flat basin of land, with views over to rising ground that carries the Roman Fosseway – it’s really quite a special place.

I hesitated for too long to join the waiting list because, well, I spend most of my mental and physical energy in my work’s gardens. Last year however, in early spring when concerns about food shortages came to the fore, it felt like the right time to get onto the list (whilst also growing some extra supplies at home in containers). I was kept updated as to progress up the list but was genuinely surprised to get a call with an offer back in August, my reply of course being be a solid “Yes Please!”

I will spare you the details as to progress so far, but to be honest there has been frustratingly little. The day I collected the gate keys was a day before we went away for a week, and we’ve been moving house seemingly ever since. Still, we’ve moved onto the allotment so to speak, and have spent a couple of hours weed pulling around the previous tenants veggies in order to stop the weed seeds blowing across the other plots – not wanting to upset our neighbours who manage some very, very tidy plots!

More sessions are planned, and soon, but before I leave my allotment chat I just have to mention that whilst I have signed on the dotted line, our new allotment is very much a family venture – at least I hope it’s going to be! To that end my partners-in-crime Ruthie and the boys have already jumped in with the weeding, and we’ve even set up a dedicated Instagram account called AllotofPotential – and we’d love to connect with like minded folks to share our newfound love for allotmenteering!

Proud holders of a AllotofPotential

I hope to post snippets of our allotment progress to my garden journal, and will likely create independent posts too if I can make the time. I’m sure we’ll be learning loads over the coming year as we take a sleeping, couch-grass infested plot through to a productive (hopefully) patch.

Observations

I was fortunate to escape my work’s garden this week for an educational team visit (with meetings I hastily add!) to two nearby properties – Kelmarsh Hall and Garden, and Coton Manor Garden. There was a good deal to see and many things were discussed of course, but looking back I realised that it was my first external works trip for two whole years. There have been webinars, online chats and such like, of course, but I’ve made no real opportunity to get out and talk garden’s with colleagues, and this needs to change!

Echinacea flower in a flowery border at Coton Manor Northamptonshire, in early September
Echinacea perfection at Coton – a beautiful garden to be sure…

Visiting gardens to compare and contrast and to discover and inspire is to many a jolly, as you’ll often hear, but of course it’s more than that. It fires the imagination, lights a spark, triggers thought processes and all that jazz! In those two gardens I rediscovered plants I hadn’t worked with before, I studied two widely different plant nursery situations and admired the gardeners who were toiling away in pretty hot conditions. I watched visitors flow through spaces, explored marketing and road tested garden interpretation. Planting combinations were poured over, early autumn borders were investigated and, I might have purchased a plant or two for my home plot.

Loving the long established use of this ‘beside the walled garden’ space at Kelmarsh Hall, with yew topiary, box hedging and mixed border plants
Loving the long established use of this ‘beside the walled garden’ space – Kelmarsh Hall

My observation and discovery is that in my quest to push plants and gardens and their benefits out across the web, that somehow, mostly due to the pandemic I expect, I’ve missed out on some important experiences myself. I’ve lost the ‘out in the field’, mind expanding, logic challenging visits I previously enjoyed. They’re valuable, believe me, and it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of sharing time with like minded people. In the coming months therefore as ‘the situation’ eases, I certainly hope to repeat the experience and simply to get out more to benchmark!

On that note I’ll finish up now, as I know you’ll need to get on. Many thanks though for reaching the end of another of my garden journals. I do hope you’re enjoying some moments in the early autumn garden.


Gary Webb
Gardening Ways

Do please check out AllotofPotential over on Instagram 👍🏻