Gardening/construction: introduction, with photographs

Design, Grow, Construct - innovations and new ideas

These are explained in more detail on other gardening and construction pages.

There are innovations and new ideas in greenhouse design, for example. There's more information about the subject on my page Structures: greenhouse, a cloche ... The traditional greenhouse has severe disadvantages. This is an example (the greenhouse doesn't belong to me). The overwhelming majority of smaller greenhouses follow something like this 'design.'

The image isn't unpleasing, far from it, but the very pleasant impression owes far more to the surroundings, the shrubs and flowers  than to the greenhouse itself. As for appearance, the design of the greenhouse is nothing much. It has very little impact, it contributes very little. As for practicality, the design is ridiculously bad. Look at the open door and the open vent in the roof. Obviously, temperatures inside the greenhouse are in danger of becoming too high. It's likely that despite the open door and the open vent, temperatures inside the greenhouse are still too high. Traditional greenhouses have very, very limited facilities for ventilation. (The owner can buy a kind of whitewash for these circumstances, to be painted on the glass or plastic - but that reduces light transmission. And what if a hot day is followed by a succession of chilly days, as can easily happen in Britain, if not in countries with more reliable weather?)  If the outside temperature is 25 Celsius then the temperature inside this greenhouse will still be much higher. It's a mistake to think that plants grow better the higher the temperature. Polytunnels are no better. From the site, 'However much ventilation you provide, a polytunnel will always get too hot in the summer ... '

My own designs make use of panels which can be removed. This only takes a few seconds, or, in the case of the largest greenhouse, a few minutes. There are greenhouses with one roof panel or more than one panel. The largest greenhouse has six. All of them can be removed, very easily. One panel, more than one panel or all the panels, can be removed.  If the outside temperature is 30 Celsius, then removal of all the panels is called for, not opening a door and opening a roof vent. And, if you'd prefer to use the structure for something other than growing crops in the winter months, then it's a simple matter to convert the greenhouse into a shed (except in the case of the design with two curved roof panels.) Simply replace light-transmitting panels with opaque sheets made of plywood or another suitable material. There are other advantages as well, which I mention below.

Some images of the structures. A few of the images below are in  column of this page at far left as well.

The triangular ('A-frame') greenhouse with rectangular extension. A-frame greenhouses are an established design but the panels are generally fixed in position. The six panels of this greenhouse, three of them visible here, can easily be removed for ventilation or to convert the greenhouse into a shed. The triangle is the strongest of all structural forms. This was an important consideration when I came to replace the previous greenhouse on this site, not designed or built by me. It had a metal framework which failed to withstand strong winds and was destroyed.

The tall triangular greenhouse and the greenhouse with a single curved polycarbonate roofing sheet in front.

The curved roofing sheet of the smaller greenhouse can be removed in a few seconds. It's held in place simply by horizontal wooden pieces. This is useful for ventilation and useful for working. The greenhouse has a length of 2.4 m and a maximum height of 1.5 m, more than enough for low-growing crops, lettuce and many more, and for the growth of seedlings but far too low for working inside the greenhouse with a straight back. As the roof can be removed so easily, this isn't a problem. There are side-panels of acrylic, not easily seen here, which can be easily removed as well.

The bigger greenhouse is more than 3 m in maximum height. Traditional greenhouses in general aren't tall enough. There are plants which have majestic height when they have the space to grow, including tomato plants. I grow grafted tomatoes which are so much more vigorous than non-grafted kinds. They can be stopped after 8 trusses or more, not 5.

Instead of one greenhouse for all purposes, I now see every advantage in having more than one kind, with different advantages. Here, they form a greenhouse cluster.


Another view of the single panel greenhouse.  Plants are grown in growbags placed on the wooden floor rather than the soil here. The greenhouse is sited on what was a steep bank. I built it up with privet branches and a layer of soil but to keep the soil as stable as possible, it isn't cultivated.

This is the double curved panel greenhouse. The two curved polycarbonate panels can be removed in a few seconds for ventilation or to allow unobstructed access for working inside the area. The wooden elements too can be removed quickly and easily. The greenhouse is 4.8 m long but the longest elements, the base elements, are 2.4 m long. The structure can easily be transported to a new location. This image shows the structure without side panels.

This greenhouse is situated on a slope. This isn't possible in the case of most greenhouses, but obviously, many, many people have gardens and allotments on slopes, or with sloping areas, and the ability to situate a greenhouse on a slope can be very, very useful.

Like the extension to the triangular greenhouse, this tall greenhouse makes use of PVC panels, which can be removed for ventilation very quickly. The PVC panels are seated in metal channels. The four supporting posts are made of galvanized metal. The gutters are inside the structure, not outside, and divert water from the acrylic roof to two storage containers inside the greenhouse.

This obviously isn't a spacious greenhouse at all but it does have enormous presence, I think, and not just because the structure has an imposing height, for its overall deminsions.  At dusk and at night (there's a street lamp nearby which illuminates it) the metal components and the PVC look more silvery, more moon-like, than ever.

Now for other structures and features. The video shows some of the trees, but not many. There are seven hazel nut trees, to be more specific, 'cobnut' and 'filbert' trees, and a small orchard - apple trees supplying dessert, cooking and cider apples - plum trees and a fig tree. This is a structure for storing apples inside the cupboard and in trays on top of the cupboard, as well as a place to sit, of course.

All the buildings on the allotments were designed and built by me, except for a shed, which was bought. It's shown in the background in this image:

In front of it is a shed which I did design and construct. Also shown, a boundary fence which I constructed.

There are various structures which are described in more detail on my page Structures for plant protection and support. They include a climbing pea support and two 'support stars.' In the video, both can be seen. One supports a fig tree, the other supports a climbing rose, variety 'Compassion.' This is the  support for climbing peas (variety 'Alderman'). It was relocated to my tiny back garden:

In the background are pyramids for supporting runner beans. At the time, the runner beans hadn't climbed to anything like their full height. Since then, I've introduced and used a slightly different design, the 'open pyramid,' which can be seen in the video. The open pyramid has three triangular sides, not four, as in the traditonal design. The new design is much more convenient. It allows harvesting in the interior of the pyramid. The traditional design makes harvesting inside the pyramid very difficult. My design also allows light to reach the interior of the pyramid much more readily.

This is the fig tree support star, before the fig tree had begun to grow:

The design is far less plain than this image would suggest. Each of the horizontal, vertical and diagonal wooden members is made up of two pieces of wood, so that the view seen from the side is of a structure which is more complex, and visually interesting, than it might seem:

Also shown in the film and described in detail on my page Structures for plant protection and support are flexible fibreglass poles which are curved and used to support netting. The netting protects crops from larger pests, such as pigeons, as well as smaller pests, such as cabbage white butterflies. One of the images from the film, which shows netting supported by the poles protecting kale plants:

Curved fibreglass poles are also used for supporting plants. Above, an  ornamental hop plant has begun to climb a curved fibreglass pole near to the high wall. More recently, the curved poles support climbing Borlotti bean plants.

Another image shows netting supports with different shapes. The support in the foreground isn't semi-circular. Also clearly visible are the low bed-boundaries for these raised beds (decking boards, in this case.)

The usual method makes use of boards which are fixed in position. This has various disadvantages. The system is inflexible. My system makes use of boards with metal supports at either end. The boards are free-standing. They can be used as 'dividers' to separate one bed from another, without any need to surround a bed with the boards. By using separators which can be moved so easily, larger areas can easily be created, perhaps temporarily. In the usual system, the weeds that grow near to the structure, underneath the structure, can be difficult to remove. My system makes it easy to lift up the boards or to move them out of the way for weeding or other purposes. My page Bed and board explains the disadvantages of the usual system and the advantages of the system I've devised.

I make use of raised beds of different sizes. Tall raised beds are shown in the video on either side of a pond. The raised beds withstand the water pressure on these sides. Tall raised beds are used in the wider area, which is one where the soil was unusable. The layer of soil was very thin, covering a mass of metal, plastic and other rubbish which I presume was put there a long time ago.

There's a page on assorted gardening techniques which includes material on composting. The composter is shown in the YouTube video.

Here, the composter is shown with a solid roof, but a PVC roof can also be fitted. This promotes higher temperatures inside the composter by the greenhouse effect, so that the composting process is accelerated. The small box attached to the composter is a nesting box for birds. The fixings are nuts and bolts, giving the structure great flexibility.  It can be used on slopes, including steep slopes.

















Design, Grow, Construct

See also other gardening pages:

Bed and board
Structures: plant protection and support
Structures: cloches, greenhouse, store/shelter, shed

Composting, rainwater collecting 
Some design principles in gardening

This section of the site gives information about my design, gardening and construction work at two allotments - on land I rent.

The upper allotment

Like the lower allotment, this allotment uses the system of beds and boards which I've devised.

In the foreground, the moisture-loving Ligularia dentata 'Gregynog Gold', not in flower. Visible also, and in flower: varieties of Hemerocallis, Kniphofia and Pelargonium. In front of the ivy-covered wall, rhubarb: 'Victoria,' 'Stocksbridge Arrow' and 'Timperley Early.' The greenhouse (and scaffolding) visible are part of another allotment.

Bed in the foreground: maincrop potatoes cv. 'Valor.' Beyond, a bed with cos lettuce, 'lobjoits green.' Also visible, Lythrum salicaria (not in flower) and part of a raspberry bed.

View of the old greenhouse  (which came to a bad end - it was destroyed during a gale.)  Rainwater is collected from the roof of the greenhouse and stored in a large water tank which holds 1 000 litres (1 tonne) of water, and in a water butt. There's another water butt at the top of the allotment. Water from the storage tank can be supplied to the lower allotment through a pipe. The pond has a value for wildlife. It attracts damselflies but is too small to attract dragonflies. Has varieties of water lily 'Nymphaea.' Visible: a small asparagus bed.

A further view of Ligularia, Hemerocallis and the greenhouse.

Potatoes 'Valor,' in flower. At right, rose 'Arthur Bell' (not in flower.) Beyond, at right, a raspberry bed.

The lower allotment

This is much larger than the upper allotment and more excusively functional, with less space, in proportion to the area, given to non-food plants, although there are five varieties of rose, most prominently 'Graham Thomas.' There are also purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Hypericum hidcote, Achillea filipendulina and other decorative plants. As in the upper allotment, I use a system of beds and boards, but not for the extensive blackberry bushes, which are wild, or for the comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum), about 30 plants, which I use as a mulching material and to make liquid fertilizer. I often allow it to flower, for its value to bees. The perennial beds contain asparagus and autumn-fruiting raspberry plants. There are further composters.

Two varieties of runner bean in flower.

 Protection for purple-sprouting broccoli using a cage I designed.

Broad beans, 'Imperial Green Longpod.'

In foreground, at left, beds with First Early and Second Early potatoes: cv. 'Duke of York,' 'Kestrel,' 'Anya.' At right, some of area used for growing comfrey. Red flowers of Papaver orientale. Other beds used for salad vegetables, asparagus, courgettes, climbing French beans 'Cobra' and other crops.

I've continued to use my system of netting cages with flexible supports, but this year even more extensively, to protect kale and purple sprouting broccoli. Fine netting is used for all but one cage, to keep out cabbage white butterflies as well as pigeons.

For years, the paths have been surfaced with wood-chips (in very large quantities) on a base of black weed-control fabric. This is a common way of constructing paths, but as the wood chips decay - even before they've decayed very much - weeds find the path almost as favourable an environment as soil. I've constructed board-walks for most of the paths in the lower allotment, and paths based on log-rolls in the upper allotment.

An extensive area in the lower allotment (adjoining the remains of an air-raid shelter from the Second World War - an 'Anderson shelter') can't be used for growing. There's a thin layer of soil covering a deep layer of plastic, rusty metal, broken glass and other detritus. Future archaeologists are welcome to excavate it. Just outside this area, I  erected a large trellis (curved corrugated iron sheets of the air-raid shelter are just visible behind the trellis) and inside the area of blighted land I constructed a raised pond / reservoir with compost containers on either side. Soil and manure have been added to the compost now to make growing beds. The material in the two growing beds on either side of the pond / reservoir  withstands the pressure of water.

This is a very convenient way of making a raised pond in an unpromising location. Apart from the debris, the ground here is sloping and uneven. The usual methods of making a raised pond, using heavy railway sleepers, brick walls, and so on, have obvious disadvantages. The red object visible at the side of the pond is a hand pump, for water extraction from the reservoir.

This was a very dry growing season for the most part (as well as the coldest summer for eighteen years) and although I have a 1000 litre tank in the upper allotment, as well as water butts, there's the need for more water storage capacity - and I   wanted a larger pond than the one in the top allotment. (See also my discussion of rainwater collecting.)

This arrangement is intended to be more than functional. The rectangular expanses of soil and water form an effective contrast, I think. The planting in the pond has included  the native British water lily Nymphaea alba.

I've designed and constructed a structure I call Transframe The components which make up the Transframe can be used to make many different structures for use in a garden or allotment, or for use by people who have no access to land. The Transframe shown has PVC panels on the wooden framework and is for protected growing: what I I call a 'growing cabinet.'

All the photos here relate to the lower allotment, where the changes have been more radical, apart from one photo showing a view inside the greenhouse of the upper allotment. One bed in the greenhouse has been used for tomatoes - not shown here - whilst the bed in this view has been used for growing tromboncino courgettes. If the tromboncino courgettes aren't harvested, they turn not into marrows but more useful winter squash, of great size. There are also two Italian pumpkin plants (Delica.)

Outdoors, I've grown two further tromboncino courgette / winter squash plants, on the small trellis and the larger trellis shown in photographs here, as well as more common courgette plants (variety 'Green Bush.')  I've also grown outdoors winter squash plants ('Golden Hubbard').

The plant growing up the curved support is golden hop (Humulus lupulus aureus.)

As usual,  many beds have been used to grow potatoes (this year Duke of York, Kestrel and International Kidney) and broad beans (Imperial Longpod). For the first time, I planted in late August seed potatoes kept in cold storage (Red Duke of York) for harvesting in late Autumn. These can be seen in front of the Transframe in one of the two photos which show it. Overwintering onions (Radar) were planted in three beds.

This has been a very tranquil season in terms of break-ins and vandalism. I've had one intrusion. The intruders who broke in stole some metal stakes I use for supporting boards. The defences were quite elaborate. They went to a great deal of trouble for not very much gain. Earlier, they took the Anderson shelter from the neighbouring allotment. Metal thieves have been very active in the area, and nationally. Cellar grates were stolen from a large number of houses in the area, including mine. But at least arsonists haven't struck at the site for a long time: no allotment huts or greenhouses torched.

Other photographs:

Gardening photographs, 2012

'For the rain it raineth every day' (Shakespeare, 'Twelfth Night,' v:1)

A very difficult growing season. From the MetOffice Website: '

'Figures for June, July and August show that 370.7 mm of rain fell across the UK, making it the second wettest summer on record since the 384.4 mm of rain seen in the summer of 1912.

'These latest figures follow a record wet April, and an April to June period that was also the wettest recorded in the UK.


'Summer 2012 was also one of the dullest summers on record with just 413 hours of sunshine. This makes it the dullest summer since 1987 when the UK saw only 402 hours of sunshine.

'To complete the disappointing picture, it has also been a relatively cool summer with a mean temperature of 13.9 C, some 0.4 C below the long term average. Despite this it was a little warmer than the summer of 2011 which saw a mean temperature of only 13.7 C.'

Growers all over the country have recorded low yields, for example of potatoes, apples and tomatoes (unless in a heated greenhouse with artificial light.)  I've had the same experience here with these crops, although most of the apple trees were only planted this year and weren't expected to crop heavily.

I planted a small orchard in the top part of the lower allotment (a few of the trees were planted last year):

Apple trees: dwarf Bramley's seedling (3 trees), Grenadier, James Grieve, Red Falstaff, Jonagold, Katy, Jupiter, Winston, Spartan.

Plum trees: Victoria, Marjorie's seedling.

Gage tree: Oullin's golden gage

Damson tree: Merryweather.

But the season was far from disastrous. The yield of broad beans was the best ever, summer fruiting and autumn fruiting raspberry bushes, redcurrants and whitecurrant bushes were prolific. After a slow start, the courgette plants have been no disappointment at all and the one winter squash plant has been outstanding.

One path has been used as a water-collecting surface and a water-collecting surface can be fitted to another path. Even this year, there has been a need for this water, as I made a small bog garden at the lower end of the top allotment, planted with hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), meadowsweet ((Filipendula ulmaria), water avens (Geum rivale), marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) and water mint (Mentha aquatica), all of them British natives.

I  designed a structure to support a fig tree: support-spokes, and a structure using curved supports for a gage tree.

The pond in the lower allotment, constructed last year, was found by frogs and used for mating. The pond is planted with white water lily (Nymphaea alba),  reedmace (Typha minima), scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) and water mint (Mentha aquatica.) Common duckweed (Lemna minor) found its way to the pond unaided. All of these, apart from Typha minima, are British natives.

Of the wild flowering plants that found their way to the allotments unaided this year, I'm particularly pleased to see selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) and common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris.)

Above, view of pond constructed the year before, raised beds with courgette plants, winter squash supported on wall, trellis with recently planted grape vine. In foreground, leaves of an apple tree. Visible behind trellis, remains of Anderson shelter, corrugated iron air-raid shelter from Second World War. The sloping piece of wood on the left side of the pond is for the use of the small frogs, enabling them to leave the pond.

Above: the two paths visible here are boarded and the path on left has a water collecting surface. (A third path, on the right, not visible.) The bed to the left of the path on left (only shown in part) was used for growing broad beans (later, spring cabbage.) The path to its right was used for early potatoes, Home Guard and Kestrel (later, leek and overwintering onions) and the bed to the right of that was used for maincrop potatoes, Rooster and Golden Wonder, here in flower (later, sown with a green manure, foraging rye.) Also shown: the versatile transframe structure, with water-collecting roof, used for water storage at the time but now used as a small garden shed, to store a wheelbarrow. Behind the transframe, autumn-fruiting raspberries (Polka and Joan J) and wild blackberry bushes. Growing against the wall at right: golden hop (humulus lupulus 'Aureus.'

Below: view of asparagus and autumn-fruiting raspberry plants (in foreground) and runner bean plants. On left, path (constructed of log-roll edging) which can be fitted with a water-collecting surface. (A long length of guttering is next to it.) Not clearly visible: the fruit trees planted at the top of this allotment last year and this year.

Below: pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) and roses (The Dark Lady, left, Remember Me, centre, Southampton, right).

Below: a support-star, with fig tree planted last year. To the left, a support framework constructed with flexible poles, with Oullins golden gage planted this year. The contrast between circular / elliptical form and straight-line form.

Upper allotment

Above: runner bean plant and floribunda rose (Arthur Bell). Just visible beyond rose,
honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum Serotina) growing against support.

Above: the largest bed used here for growing lettuces, of various varieties.
Just visible on left, the curved support for raspberry canes. Log-roll edging used as a path.

Below: view of small pond and, beyond, herb garden.

Gardening photographs, 2013

This year's growing season

The start of the growing season was delayed this year. The spring was the coldest for 50 years. Most of the overwintering broad beans (variety 'Aquadulce claudia') survived and the gaps were filled with spring-sown beans (variety 'Bunyard's exhibition.')

Below, lettuces in late June on a raised/inclined bank, North facing and a suitable place for these plants, which prefer cooler to sun-drenched conditions. The component making up most of the bed by bulk is the woody material of privet, twigs and branches, covered by fairly thin layers of manure and soil. The lettuces have grown well in the bed, which takes much less time and effort to construct than a bed made up of manure and compost. The 'mono-post' rectangular structure is simply to mark the boundary between lower and upper allotment and the straw bale is for sitting on.

Below, high raised beds used for growing courgettes (on the left) and potatoes (in the background). These beds were also constructed by using predominantly woody material made available by trimming privet hedges. There are tadpoles in the pond. The grass near the pond has been left long to benefit the young frogs when they emerge from the pond. Wildlife such as frogs have greater protection from predators in long grass than in short grass or on bare ground.

Below: soil added to the raised beds came from various areas, including this one. Most of the top-soil was removed and wild flower seeds were sown. The plants, some of them very rare in the wild, have grown well in the infertile soil. Visible here: Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), Corncockle (Agrestemma githago), Corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum), Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Common Poppy (Papaver rheum).

Below, climbing peas ('Alderman') grown on the mono-post support.

Below, runner beans

Below, the upper allotment, late July

... and in early September, after erection of a shed (and after departure of the swifts in early August, when the sky becomes empty and joyless.)

The orchard planted during the last few years is made up of these trees:


Bramley (3 trees), James Greave (2 trees), Dabinett (2 trees)Grenadier, Katy, Spartan, Winston, Jupiter, Jonagold, Red Falstaff.


Opal, Victoria, Marjorie's Seedling


Oullin's Golden Gage



I've converted an extensive area of the lower allotment into a nuttery, with six hazel trees, cobnuts - Lange Tidlings Zeller and Gustav's Zeller - and a filbert - Gunslebert. I've also planted a Gunslebert tree in the upper allotment.

Good riddance: I've cut down the invasive bramble patch at the bottom of the lower allotment, laid out a large bed and converted it into a raised bed by adding a thick layer of manure. The farmer was able to dump the manure on the bed from the roadside very easily, using the bucket on the front of his tractor. As always, or almost always, I give thanks for mankind's technological achievements, almost always preferable to using bare hands, using only muscle power, as in Hobbes' state of nature.

I've now taken on a third growing area, the lower half of a neighbouring allotment which is too large for the allotment holder, on an informal basis. The largest of the plants to be cleared, up to 3 metres high, are brambles and broom (Cytisus scoparius.)

I started by applying glyphosate but quickly reverted to more satisfying methods - scythe, shears, lopper, spade, and blasts from a powerful flame weeder. Of course, these methods may dispense with the technology of chemical engineering, the production of  glyphosate, but they all  depend upon technology just the same, such as metallurgy.

Below, structures I designed and constructed earlier in the year, before the growing season started or early in the growing season.

In the foreground, self-supporting boards. Broad bean plants growing in the beds. Also shown, the PhD composter on the right with transframe (designed and constructed in a previous year) to the left. Photograph taken in mid-January.

Large raised beds made in an area which was very unsuitable for growing - a thin layer of soil covering a mass of broken glass, plastic waste and rusting metal. Visible on the left - part of a smaller raised bed which had been made previously, also in the area of the rubbish dump. Photograph taken in mid-January.

A rectangular runner bean support (which incorporates rectangular steel section) and, in the foreground, a climbing pea support. Between them, cane pyramids for supporting runner beans.

The rectangular runner bean support.

A support for a climbing rose ('Compassion.') This is a 'mono-post' support, like the rectangular runner bean support and the climbing pea support. The single post can be used with various attachments. Each of the structures can be dismantled and re-erected easily - the various components are bolted in place.

Below, a structure I designed and constructed in late autumn. For structural strength, it  makes use of rectangular steel section as well as wood. After a long period of rainfall, this area, leading to the lower allotment, was becoming hazardous and unusable, deep in slippery mud. The walkway overcomes the problem.

Below, another problem later in the year: the greenhouse after very strong winds in November. The greenhouse is in an exposed site and was exposed to the full force of the winds. When I took on the allotment, there was a steel framework without any panels, some of its fixings badly corroded, but thick enough and strong enough generally to present problems in demolishing.

Gardening photographs, 2014

In 2013, the very old greenhouse was destroyed during a gale. In 2014, I designed and constructed a new greenhouse and it was used successfully in the 2014 growing season.  (Further information about the greenhouse on the page Cloches and a triangular greenhouse.) Photos showing the devastation, construction and the finished greenhouse.

In the photograph above, the raised bed in front of the greenhouse is used to grow potatoes (variety Kestrel.) I constructed the sloping walkway to eliminate problems in this part of the allotment - in very wet conditions, the ground here sometimes becomes a muddy morass.

Many of the photographs for 2014 were taken with a new camera and I've removed them. I've next to no interest in photography, but I'd decided that the time had come to replace my old digital camera, which was very old, in digital camera terms. I took quite a number of photos with the new, much more complex, camera but it was obvious that they weren't nearly as good as ones I'd taken with the old, much less complex camera, even if the new camera does have some advantages, including complete control over aperture and speed settings and many more settings for focal length (Wide-angle pictures became much more important when I concentrated my attention on the long wall of the lower allotment.)  I persisted - not much persistence and determination were needed - and this camera was mainly used for the photographic record for  2015.

Gardening photographs, 2015

Photographs taken 21 May

Lower allotment

There's a long stone wall marking the boundary between the lower allotment and the school on the other side of the wall. Before 2015, I'd already constructed plant supports which formed a clear-cut rhythm, with the pattern a b b b a. Here, the supports at the ends, 'a,' are made of wood and are completely straight-line. The support at the lower end supported, and still supports, an ornamental vine, Vitis Brant, the higher one a fig tree, variety 'Brown Turkey.'

The three supports between these two end-points, 'b,' were curved and are still curved, predominantly. They are made from fibre-glass. From lower to higher, they supported a golden hop plant, a late-fruiting plum tree, 'Marjorie's seedling, and 'Ouillin's Golden Gage.' In the dormant season, I dug up the plum tree and the gage tree and moved them to new positions in the top allotment, leaving the inner, curved supports for new roles. After a time, I decided that they should be used to support runner beans, including the one supporting the hop plant,  and added spokes, one vertical and two diagonal, to each support.

Most prominent here is the wooden, straight-line support for the grape vine, a trellis inside two diagonals. The other wooden straight-line structure is at the top of the wall, a 'support star' for a fig tree. Between these structures are three fibre-glass structures, curved but with straight 'spokes,' to be used for supporting runner beans. The lowest curved structure also supports a golden hop plant, clearly visible. The linkage-contrast pattern is a b b b a. The vertical posts in the foreground are to support autumn-fruiting raspeberry plants. The boards at the boundaries of raised beds (here used for growing broad beans and overwintering onion plants) are clearly visible.

The view downhill. Most prominent, the 'support star' for supporting a fig tree. Visible at the base of each element of the inner structures with curved perimeters, small runner bean plants.

In the centre, the largest of the curved supports, with golden hop growing up one of the curved elements. One of the many advantages of surrounding beds with boards: protection of seedlings against winds. The tender runner bean seedlings planted at the base of  the poles are protected to a large extent from Westerly winds by these boards..

In some circumstances, clusters can have greater visual interest than isolated objects. A skyline is a composite, a collection of objects. (I discuss garden skylines in more detail on the page Design principles.) In a garden, we can't hope to emulate the impact of the skyline - or the skylines - of Manhattan or the skylines of Oxford, but a garden can have a distinctive skyline.

Below, a skyline, on the lower allotment, which includes, on the left, the neighbouring school, then a support star for the support of a climbing rose, partly hidden in this view by a Victoria plum tree, then a temporary structure, a spire to support climbing French bean plants, then a hop pole, supporting a Target hop plant, partly hidden by an apple tree, variety Winston, then the A-frame greenhouse with a trellis now attached on its left side. The tall greenhouse is the most prominent part of the skyline and dominates the view to the south. The other, smaller components provide visual interest in the view to the east.

The long diagonal in the image above is the walkway I constructed to avoid the problem of walking in a muddy morass to get down into the allotment when rainfall has been heavy for a long time. The walkway can be viewed as part of the skyline, perhaps - it underlines part of the skyline.

There's no doubt that the skyline would be simpler without  two trees, the plum tree to the left which partly obscures the support star, here shown unobscured, in an earlier photograph

and the apple tree to its right which partly obscures the supporting pole for a hop plant. But this is only one viewpoint. From some other viewpoints, these trees contribute effectively to the visual effect. From a viewpoint not purely visual, the trees contribute effectively to the allotment, which is, after all, far from being entirely a visual matter - there's also the matter of food production. These two trees make very effective use of the land. They are both situated in small planting pockets - where small amounts of soil were found in an area which had been used by someone a long time ago as a rubbish dump, with, originally, a very thin layer of soil covering discarded plastic, rusting metal and broken glass. That's why I created the large raised bed where the other structures making up the skyline (but not the greenhouse) are situated.

Later photographs

A recent structure constructed in the orchard area, a shelter with space for storage:

Later, the interior was filled and furnished with less sparseness. The doors are the doors of a cupboard, not doors that can be walked through. The cupboard isn't fully enclosed, as one main use for this structure is as an apple store, and good ventilation is desirable for storage of apples. The cupboard is strengthened with vertical timbers. Instead of using shelving, apples can be hung in net bags from hooks set in the timbers. Apples can be placed in storage containers on top of the cupboard.  The structure is also used for drying and temporary storage of potatoes after lifting. The structure is situated in the small orchard, with the beds used for growing potatoes nearby.

The oak bench can be used for seating, whilst resting and looking, but also as a working surface, whilst using the equipment for pressing apples to make apple juice and cider (in American English, cider and hard cider.)

Upper allotment

Late August

The newest structure, a shed I designed and constructed, sited in front of the existing shed, which was bought.

Earlier, the weather during May was dire and dismal but not disastrous, with day after day after day low temperatures, gloomy skies and strong winds (but not nearly strong enough to be dramatic.)  The Spring blossom was magnificent, as always, but appreciating the blossom was more difficult than usual - or as difficult as usual - in the chilly, wind-swept English outdoors. The Scottish, Welsh and Irish outdoors must have been even worse. Even the rain failed, and the ground became very dry and very off-putting. It's one thing to be standing there, hosepipe in hand, giving the crops their life-giving water, in a different climate, when the contrast between the sun's fierce heat and the coolness of the water is intense and vivid. It's another thing to be standing there when the sun and the heat of the sun - or any warmth of the sun - seem a distant memory.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall has perceptive things to say about May (in 'The River Cottage Year'):

'May is the month when, in our winter reveries. we often imagine summer will be gloriously upon us ... May isn't quite like that. Things are coming on, without a doubt. However, like the watched pot that won't boil, our plants are snubbing our daily inspections, and progress can seem painfully slow ... May simply doesn't have the breadth of produce imagined six months previously.'

A wider viewpoint - a viewpoint less subject to {restriction} gives a dramatic contrast between nature the niggardly provider of food (almost half way through the year, nature is providing so little) and nature the wonderful provider of visual feasts - the hawthorn blossom, the blossom of the fruit trees, the trees coming into full leaf or already in full leaf. Other facts and facets of nature - nature the vandal, nature the destroyer, nature the mindless (despite Wordsworth), nature the inexhaustible.


July. A new structure, on the far right, a small greenhouse, completed the day before the photo was taken. Next to it, the apple store and shelter, in the distance, the much larger triangular greenhouse, in the foreground, the composter.

Another view of the small greenhouse. The acrylic roof, not visible here, is shaped into crests and hollows by support wires. Water runs from the troughs into two gutters, then into the two down-pipes and then collects in the two plastic containers visible on the base of the greenhouse. The guttering and other components are internal, not outside the greenhouse. The PVC sheets making up the walls are kept in place by the four galvanized cylinders which support the roof, and by thin, strong cord stretched between the pillars, not the usual system of screws in timber elements. The PVC can easily be replaced by plywood sheets, to convert the greenhouse into a shed. The structure is easy to erect and dismantle, to move it to a different location. None of the separate pieces which make up the greenhouse are heavy. The base is made up of sections of railway sleeper. Some of these can be taken up to grow plants in the soil underneath the greenhouse.

August, another structure completed - not an extension to the existing A-frame greenhouse in the upper allotment but a smaller greenhouse, non-traditional in design. The earlier A-frame greenhouse has great height. It allows tall plants, such as indeterminate tomato plants, to reach their full height (the height they can grow to, producing fruit which can ripen. This smaller greenhouse is for smaller plants, such as lettuces which can be harvested in late autumn. Unlike the larger greenhouse, it's not possible for an adult to stand upright when the curved roof is in position - but the roof doesn't have screws or other fixings. It's kept in position by its flex and the horizontal members at the two longer ends. The roof can be removed in a few moments, allowing work to be done inside the structure without bending down, or crawling.

The walls are made of acrylic sheeting, two sheets on each side. Each sheet is 1200mm x 1200mm.

The structure is fixed - posts are set in concrete. Another version of the structure is easily assembled, easily disassembled and easily moved. The separate elements, the wood timbers and the plastic sheet, can be easily carried. The structure, unlike practically all other greenhouses, can be assembled on sloping ground, as here.

(Here shown without acrylic side walls.)

This structure, a 'half-greenhouse-cloche,' was soon extended - the resulting full greenhouse-cloche has all the advantages of its predecessor. It can be moved very easily - the two curved polycarbonate sheets don't have any fixings and the wooden elements can be separated very easily. Even the largest are easy to carry. This is a structure with limited headroom - the  maximum height is 1.5 m - but after the polycarbonate sheets have been removed, operations such as digging the soil inside the structure can be carried out without any problems. Most work can be carried out without removing them. This is a structure which is intended to complement the main greenhouse, which is very tall - about 3m.

For a time, I didn't see any easy way of keeping the two vertical wooden elements in place (only one of them can be seen here.) I'd come back the next day and find that one of the polycarbonate sheets had collapsed. The chains - there are four of them - solved this problem. One of the diagonal chains is visible here.










The section on the right, 'Design, Grow, Construct' gives information about innovations and new ideas in various fields, including greenhouse design. Below, a few images of some of the smaller greenhouse structures: