Gardening/construction: introduction, with photographs






The record for 2017 (column 4) is the most comprehensive

See also other gardening pages, with information about innovations and new ideas:

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

Composting, rainwater collecting 
Some design principles in gardening


Text and photographs for the years 2010 - 2016 are in the second column of the page. Text and photographs for the year 2017 are in the third column and text and photographs for the year 2018 are in the fourth column.

My two allotments (I generally refer to them as as 'growing areas'' here) are part of the Morley Street Allotment Site in the Walkley area of Sheffield, very near to Hillsborough. A plan of the area:

The allotment path between the lower and upper allotments gives a view of the lower allotment which is obviously very different from the view of the lower allotment from Morley Street. The path gives a much more complete view of the upper allotment than the view from Morley Street..

This is a page which uses Large Page Design. For viewing, the use of quite a large computer screen is recommended, not the very small screen of a portable device. If time is limited, I'd very much recommend looking at the section for the year 2017, in the column on the far right of the page, and, also, the entries in this column. Alternatively, you could look at the images in all parts of the page, fairly rapidly, using horizontal as well as vertical scrolling. There's quite a lot to see and take in, I think. The text, with information about the innovations, the new ideas and the details can wait. You could also take an aerial view of the Large Page, as if from a great height. Find the zoom facilities of your browser and set it to the level of 20%. Some scrolling will be needed, but not nearly as much as when the page is viewed at 'ground level.'

I garden in an industrial city. Go a little further and the countryside begins. Gardening is an interest, or much more than 'an interest,' like industry, past and present, the built environment, past and present, and practical construction. I garden to obtain food and garden with the hope of creating beauty, where I can. I garden for food with this in mind, from the Introduction to Jane Grigson's 'Vegetable Book:'

'In my most optimistic moments, I see every town ringed again with small gardens, nurseries, allotments, greenhouses, orchards, as it was in the past, an assertion of delight and human scale.'

But there are also problems, overlooked by perennial optimists. Weeds are the worst, for me, a much greater problem than pests or the weather. Weeds are relentless and weeding requires sustained effort. By now, the weeds should have become far less of a problem, but I've no control over the wind-borne weed seeds which arrive at the growing areas and cause fresh problems.

Another problem is the problem of intruders. The growing areas are part of a much larger site which has been the subject of arson attacks, damage and theft. I've had to spend a lot of time on making the security of these areas as good as I can, but there are great difficulties. It's impossible to make the lower area as secure as I'd like, but intruders can easily be seen from the road next to it. The upper area is much easier to make secure and I've done everything possible to make it secure, There's a gate constructed from security fencing, a heavy chain and a heavy padlock. I added a steel bar to the door of the shed shown in the image to the right, the shed further away from the camera.

There have been many, many break-ins at other sites in the city, many, many case of vandalism, as well as arson attacks which cause minor damage or very substantial damage, damage which makes rebuilding seem the only option. Sometimes, the people affected decide they've had enough. They don't want to carry on. One report in a newspaper published in the city describes the experience of one grower. He 'found charred timbers, twisted metal and ruined gardening equipment.' 

The first thing I do when I approach my own growing areas to begin work is to check that the buildings are still standing, that they haven't been burned to the ground or heavily vandalised. (I'd be quite relieved if I found they'd been slightly or lightly vandalised or not too badly vandalised and could be repaired without a great deal of work and a great deal of expense.)

Complete security is very difficult to achieve, as I realized yet again in a period of a few weeks in January, 2018. An intruder, or more than one intruder, managed to get into the area and into the shed four times, not through the gate but by some other means. I found one slight gap in the defences and did the necessary work to improve security. When the intruder(s) managed to get in the next time, it wasn't here but somewhere else, but I've no idea how. Equipment stolen from the shed has a replacement cost of more than 1000. I live in a small house. In the workshop there and in other places, I've machinery and other equipment for woodworking and metalworking. Realistically, I don't have the space to store gardening equipment, and thieves can target houses as well as sheds. A burglar broke into this house.

I'm never in any danger of neglecting food production in the land I rent. There are many structures in the photographs here, and many plants which can't be eaten or shouldn't be eaten or which I don't eat. The 'ornamental' plants - I'd rather think of them as the sensuous plants or the beautiful plants, although some of the edible plants are sensuous or beautiful as well - now include many more native British plants. But the plainer, less sensuous, less beautiful plants of all kinds interest me so much.. I'm self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit for a large part of the year. I still have to buy carrots and cauliflowers and some other things, including potatoes, after my own stored potatoes have run out. There are some imported food products I have to buy - above all flour or bread made with imported flour, as British flour isn't 'hard.' But I don't buy oranges or orange juice (I do press apples to make apple juice) or bananas or imported food products in general.

My interest in the built environment as well as the natural environment will be obvious. This is a part of the country with outstanding achievement in the built environment, but the achievements are more often than not in industrial building, not building which has aesthetic appeal. George Orwell's verdict on Sheffield's built environment has often been quoted:

' ... even Wigan is beautiful compared with Sheffield. Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World: its inhabitants, who want it to be pre-eminent in everything, very likely do make that claim for it. It has a population of half a million and it contains fewer decent buildings than the average East Anglian village of five hundred.' (From 'On the Road to Wigan Pier,' Chapter 7. He visited the city in the 1930's.)

All the small buildings and other structures I've designed and built are intended to have aesthetic appeal as well as functional usefulness.

Cameras are unsatisfactory gadgets, as well as miracles of human ingenuity, older film cameras as well as digital cameras. Two dimensional images of objects in the much fuller, much richer three dimensional world have their uses but I'd much rather be in this three dimensional world when I can than capture or look at two dimensional images. Still, the photographic record here has its uses.







The growing season was very successful - except for climbing peas - and the construction season was a very successful one as well, I think. It included extensions to buildings as well as other projects, including a new pond, much larger than the previous pond, supplied by a large water collecting / water conservation surface

Below, an extension to the greenhouse with a longer wall and a shorter wall made with straw bales and a longer wall and a shorter wall made of polycarbonate sheets. The building wasn't finished in this year. I didn't complete the straw bale walls to the sheet metal roof, and the walls still have to be plastered. The building now houses the hydraulic apple pressing machine I designed and constructed, and can be used for plant propagation - the two polycarbonate walls will let in enough light. And for shelter in poor weather - the building is well insulated.

The leaves of the Nasturtium plants shown  below are edible, as are the flowers.

Below, a bank planted with Nasturtiums.

The bank was constructed using privet branches cut from overgrown privet bushes and then covered with soil. The bank is quite high. There are other, lower banks in this growing area constructed in the same way, in areas which would otherwise be unusable or unsuitable, including areas which had been used (not by me, of course) as a dumping ground for unwanted metal and plastic.

Above, a view of the pond which I constructed to replace the much smaller pond which had lasted for many years.  The cheap pond liner I used for the pond failed. The new pond is made of much more substantial liner, together with underlay. The ugly plastic sheeting on the left directs rainwater from the water-collecting surface uphill, not shown in the photo, to the pond. The plastic sheeting has now been replaced with a much more substantial and much better looking structure made from rigid polycarbonate. Beyond the ugly plastic sheeting, a polycarbonate sheet in temporary storage.

Frogs, frogspawn and little frogs will now have much more space - and the pond attracts visiting dragonflies, and, I hope, breeding  dragonflies.

So far, the pond has attracted one species of dragonfly, the Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - I hope there will be more in future years. The photograph here can't possibly do justice to the wonderful, rapid flight of these dragonflies, their ability to hover, which gave me the opportunity to appreciate even more their beauty, their beauty when they rested. These are ancient insects and growing in the pond are the  horsetails I planted ('scouring rush,' Equisetum hyemale.)

The photograph above comes from Wikipedia. When I saw the dragonflies, I didn't frantically look for my digital camera - I didn't have it with me, or a mobile phone camera. I gave the dragonflies all my attention. I could have captured an image of a dragonfly but I couldn't capture the experience of seeing it.

The pond loses water by evaporation but there's been practically no need for topping up with tap water. I constructed a large water collecting structure which supplies the pond with rainwater.

All the plants in the pond and near the pond are British natives, including the water lily Nymphaea alba), water violet (Hottonia polustris), mare's tail (Hippuris vulgaris), scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica), water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides), great reedmace (Typha latifolia), T. minima, hemp agrimony (Eupatorium canabinum), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), water avens (Geum rivale), marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris).  The wooden walkway over the pond gives access to the growing area at the bottom of the allotment.

Above, the water collecting surface which directs water to the new pond in rainy weather and reduces the need to use tap water. The surface is fixed firmly in place and is unaffected by high winds. This year, there's been plenty of rain and there's been hardly any need to replace the water lost from the pond by evaporation with tap water.

The surface can be used for plant propagation and for growing plants in containers, whilst continuing to collect water and take it to the pond.  The containers are placed on structures which are supported by the aluminium bars shown in the photograph.

A path also leads down to the pond area. The path can  be converted into another water collecting surface, in this case a temporary one. A plastic sheet is fitted to the path, with metal pegs to keep it in place. The sheet can be stored on a reel and rolled out whenever needed.

Below, three cylindrical protection structures, used to protect early purple sprouting broccoli and oriental vegetables. The netting is supported by plastic-covered steel fencing pins, with fibreglass tent poles bent into a circle above the vertical fencing pins.

Below, a trellis support to be used for growing Uchki Kuri winter squash. The maincrop potatoes growing below the trellis support continued to grow and produced a crop - a way of growing two different crops in the same area.

Below, Uchiki Kuri winter squash plants growing on another trellis support. The squash plants in different parts of the growing area produced a fine crop.

A potato bed with Kestrel second early potatoes, very versatile potatoes, exceptional for making chips.

Lettuce plants growing below the potato bed.


The bare stone walls of the tall boundary wall are visible in part in the photograph of  the potato bed. Plants are beginning to climb the curved fibreglass supports. More of the wall and supports are shown in the third photograph of the section for 2015.

Later in the season, the wall becomes almost covered. From the foreground to more distant areas on this part of the wall, there are Borlotti bean plants with pods visible, the golden hop plant (Humulus lupulus aureus) growing up the tall wooden pole, and beyond that an ornamental vine Vitis vinifera Brandt. To the left of the vine, not growing against the wall, is hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) growing in the bog / moist soil area which is next to the pond.

Below, two of the apple trees towards the end of September, Bramleys Seedling (culinary) on the left and Spartan (dessert) further back, on the right. There are 2 culinary apple trees, 4 dessert apple trees, 4 cider apple trees and 2 plum trees. The crop from all of them was good, except for the Marjorie's seedling plum tree. All the apple trees are on dwarfing rootstocks, including the Bramley apple tree here, which is too young to have reached anything like full production. Some of the Nasturtium plants on the lower bank are visible.

Below, an apple tree, variety Katy / Katja (dessert),  with, in the foreground, Hemerocallis plants. Some of another dessert apple tree, James Grieve, visible on the right.

Below, one of the cider apple trees (variety Dabinett). The curved metal structure is an Anderson shelter, used for protection during German air raids in The Second World War.

Most of the hazel trees I planted are now quite large. The cultivated haze trees are cobnuts  (Corylus avellana) and filberts (C. maxima).

There are eight trees in all:  a row of three on the East Side of the plastic water collecting surface (two of them prominent in the photo below) a row of three trees on the other side, near the boundary with the next allotment, and two other trees near the boundary. The boundary trees aren't being grown as hedging trees but as trees of more or less the same size.  This shows the two rows on either side of the water collecting surface:

The yield has been increasing each year. Last year, the crop was small but none of the nuts were eaten. Grey squirrels had hardly been seen at all in the area. This year, the crop was bigger, until just about every one was eaten by the squirrels.   Squirrels are thriving in the neighbourhood now. This leaves me with a dilemma. I don't oppose control of grey squirrels. I'm ready to control grey squirrels myself, very reluctantly, by using a humane trap. The law states that any squirrels captured have to be destroyed. It's illegal to release them, for example in a different area. I'm still intending to deter them rather than destroy them. The best method of deterring them would be to put sheet metal cylinders around the trunks of the trees. Squirrels can't climb the smooth surface if the height of the cylinders is more than 1.8 m. Sheet metal cylinders can't be fitted to any of these trees yet. They would need to be quite a bit taller. I'm considering my course of action, and hoping to design a more elaborate system which prevents them eating the crop.

During the year I  planted a Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) and two holly trees (Ilex aquifolium) at the Western boundary of the lower allotment. For me, it's the existence and individuality of such trees which is the most important thing - but the joy they bring is important too. Nature isn't there for our joy and our convenience, primarily. Many products of nature are useful, or not just useful, essential, but nature can't be contained. The otherness of nature is as obvious to me as the beauties of nature.

Above wild flowers -  the yellow flowers of corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum). More wild flowers emerged later in the season, eg oxeyedaisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), in profusion. Various native grasses too,  growing in the infertile soil, and a courgette plant growing in a wide pipe which leads to fertile soil. In this bed, the fertile soil is beneath the infertile soil. In most cases, of course, infertile soil, including sub-soil, is below the fertile soil.

Below, the wide diameter pipe which was sunk into a bed with a lower layer made up of rich soil with a high manure content and an upper layer made up predominantly of poor soil. The soil was excavated from a bed which became the large pond. A mixture of grass seed and perennial flower seed was sown on this poor soil. The poor soil was an advantage, reducing competition from plants which prefer richer soil. The pipe was filled with fertile soil and a courgette plant was established in the pipe. The roots of the plant were able to grow towards and enter the deeper layer of rich soil and the courgette plant thrived. This gives a method of growing wild flowers and cultivated plants, such as the courgette plant, in the same bed.

An  extension of the greenhouse structure made of polycarbonate sheeting formed into a curve. The curved part is held in place partly by the sheet metal roof. It hides a window area constructed of PVC sheet.

Much later in the year, I covered the horizontal wooden sections at the apex of the greenhouse with inverted V-shaped sheet metal sections -

Later still, I added sheet metal cladding to the wooden diagonal supports:

Two curved extensions on the other side of the greenhouse structure, the uphill side:

An addition to the structure. an extension to the main axis, on the left. Photograph taken 21 December, 2017. This forms a porch to the entrance, a  better place to shelter when it rains than inside the main greenhouse. And, also, increasing the water-collecting surface area of the greenhouse and taking the water from the sloping sheet metal roofing and the extension itself to ground level, where it can be diverted to the water-storage pond, hidden by the curved sheets to the front.

Below, the new West-facing polycarbonate extension in the centre. On the left, some of the North-facing extension (and some of the straw bale extension, with its flat sheet-metal roof.) To the right some of the South-facing extension, which shelters the small pond. Beyond, the apex of the A-frame of the main greenhouse structure.

Below, foreground, from left to right, part of one of the curved polycarbonate extensions to the greenhouse, a steel structure used for growing climbing French beans earlier in the year, a sloping wooden support for growing climbing squash. Behind the support, a metal pizza/bread oven, wood fired, and two black water containers, for supplying the greenhouse with water. The sloping wooden support has since been removed, relocated to the south-facing side of the apple-store in the lower growing area.

The metal pizza / bread oven contains many firebricks to retain the heat released by the wood fuel. I devised a pattern for building up the firebricks so as to make good use of the available space. Only some of the firebricks are visible in this photograph. The fuel is fed into the oven through a rectangular opening, not visible in the photograph above but just visible in the one below (there's a gap in the top layer of firebricks to allow for the fuel, which of course burns in the central cavity. The rectangular opening is near to this gap in the firebricks.) A pizza stone for holding the pizza or a metal tray for holding the dough to make bread fits on top of the top layer of firebricks.

Alternatively, the bread can be baked whilst covered, inside a suitable container, such as this one made from cast iron. The wood in the background is a suitable fuel for the oven.

Another structure I built during the year.  The aluminium framework supports netting, not shown here, for protecting brassicas, in this case oriental vegetables such as Mizuna, Pak Choi and Komatsuna, from birds.

The pond is visible in each of the three photographs above, although not to anything like its full extent. The usual procedure when constructing a pond with a flexible liner is to use bricks or stones, eg, in the 'Gardening Manual' of The Royal Horticultural Society,' 'Bricks or stones laid carefully on the margins keep the liner in place during filling - lift them to allow liner movement as the pool fills.' Rocks and stones are quite heavy. Finding enough of them may be difficult. They may damage the liner to an extent if they have rough projections. I used a better method, involving the use of plastic bottles. They could be taken to the site easily. They weighed very little but at the site they were filled with water and each one held 7 litres of water, with a weight of 7 kg. After use, they could be left at the site and the water in the bottles could be poured into the new pond. Later, I developed a system of elements I call 'hydrostatic construction elements' which has similar advantages and further advantages - lightweight elements which can be transported easily to the worksite and there filled with water to convert them into much heavier elements. The system is explained below, in the section on an aluminium netting support.

All the lightweight metal parts which make up the hydrostatic structure are cheap and easily available - C-stud, manufactured for a very different use, as partition wall stud. These can easily be transported. Each element, such as the two horizontal elements which form the base of the structure, is made up of two open  C-stud parts, forming now a closed element. Each element can be filled with a long water container. I make use of flat hose as the container. The hose is intended to be used for transferring water, of course. In this case, the water in the hose is in a state of rest, exerting hydrostatic pressure. The weight of the water inside the C-stud parts converts a very light and fairly flimsy structure into a more substantial structure, with sufficient mass to withstand high winds, without the difficulty of transporting elements made of a material such as structural steel. The water inside the elements can easily be emptied to transport the structure to another location. The elements are fastened by a method which allows them to be easily connected and easily separated.

Below, climbing rose 'Compassion' in late September.




























































There are completely new projects here, as well as developments which affect projects started in previous years. The information, text and images, is followed by comments on the extremes of weather during the first part of the year, from very very wet to very very driy, and hot. These are 'English extremes,' not the much more extreme extremes experienced in some other countries. Some of the 'extremes' led to some of the projects.

A decision that had nothing to do with the weather: I decided not to plaster the straw bale building illustrated and designed in the 2017 section. I'd originally intended to

In the space of a few weeks, in January of this year, there were four break-ins, with gardening equipment stolen from the upper growing area. These events, and the problem of security, are discussed in the Introduction in the first column of this page.

Towards the end of January, I began to make a growing bed on top of a privet hedge, intended to grow potatoes this year. I haven't been able to find any example of a 'hedge-bed' anywhere so provisionally, I count it an innovation. The privet hedge is low when seen from the path which ends here, giving access to the two growing areas, lower and upper. This privet hedge forms part of  the boundary of the lower growing area. Seen from the other side, the hedge is much higher, about 4m.

I don't like privet hedges. The plant grows too fast and needs trimming or much more drastic action too often. It looks characterless. It's not a British native. There are British natives which make much better hedging plants, but replacing a privet hedge with something better has disadvantages. On of them is that the process takes years.

Nearby, there's a bank which I constructed by using privet branches cut from the privet hedges of the two areas. I added straw to the material and then soil. Nasturtium plants have grown very well on the bank. The bank and Nasturtiums are shown in the second photo of the 2017 section, in this column.

So far, I've put a thick layer of straw on top of the hedge. Thiis shows part of the privet hedge, viewed from the path, the much lower side of the hedge. There's a further section not shown here, to the right and slightly lower.

This shows this part of the developing hedge-bed after adding soil, taken from beds in the upper growing area not used for growing potatoes for years. Much more soil will need to be added. Most of the bed is at a favourable angle,  south facing.

The hedge-bed on top of the privet hedge will restrict the growth of the privet. There are fruit trees fairly near the base of the hedge on the other side of the privet hedge. Transpiration from the hedge will be reduced by the barrier, making more water available to the fruit trees.

This shows part of the 'path' leading from the gate of the upper growing area. Photograph taken early January.

Below, this photograph (taken in the summer of 2016) shows the same area but with a different kind of path, two lengths of log roll edging laid side by side, with landscape fabric underneath.

I removed the log roll edging because it was starting to decay and because it had disadvantages - it was slippery in wet weather. I wanted a different kind of path. It would take quite a long time to produce a smooth but necessarily sloping surface which would be the base for a new path. I decided to construct not a path but a low-level walkway, raised above the ground, eliminating the need to tame and then manicure the ground in any way.

The existing walkway from the gate of the lower growing area down into the area has worked very well. It's shown in the last photograph in the section for 2014. There's a rope for added security.

I intended to construct the new walkway using methods and materials similar to the ones I'd used for the older one, but I decided instead to follow a completely new design, using an aluminium ladder and laying wooden boards on the ladder. This is the ladder partly covered with boards.

The wooden boards arent' fixed in position. They can easily be removed and the sections of the ladder can be moved so that the ladder becomes more compact and can be transported. It can be used as a ladder, then. As a walkway it's very secure and walking on it doesn't feel precarious in the least. It eliminates the problem of walking in mud in this particular area. It has visual strength as well, I think, leading the eye with directness and simplicity to the far end of the allotment. Yet another function - as a water-collecting surface. The boards can be covered with pond liner and a small section of gutter can be fitted to the lower end, with a pipe taking water to the nearby pond. This pond, a small one, is hidden by one of the curved polycarbonate sheets on the left. The pond is one of the main sources of supply for watering the plants in the greenhouse. The other supply is a large storage tank. The ladder has turned out to be very, very useful.

The ground next to the older walkway of the lower allotment is now saturated with water too. I paint the wood of the walkway when necessary but the wood was old when I made the walkway - it was wood I wanted to make use of - and I intend to protect it by covering the upper surface with pond liner and underlay left over from the construction of the new pond. This will also allow the walkway to be used as another water collection surface, directing water into a storage container. The water will be useful for watering plants in this part of the growing area, which is quite some distance from the pond.

Below, a galvanized metal water container. The rectangular tray is supported so that it's the right depth for growing watercress. The gravel in the tray prevents the tray from floating on the surface of the water and provides a substrate for the roots of the watercress. Watercress bought from a shop will be used. It will soon root in the gravel. Water in the container has to be changed regularly. To empty the water, the stopper is removed from the hole at the base of the container.

In the foreground, the soil sieve illustrated and described in the section for 2016, used in previous years for growing climbing peas.

I take photographs now and again to illustrate this page and other pages but in general, I've no interest in photography. I've never got round to taking photographs of tomato plants in the greenhouse or the older greenhouse which was demolished. Tomato growing has been very successful, particularly since I've been using grafted tomato plants, which I've found to be very vigorous, producing a very good crop, and very disease resistant. The main problem has been the lateness of the crop, inevitable in a climate like this.


Below, view of the upper growing area. Like the lower growing area, it 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, not constructed by me. It 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. 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 growing area is much larger than the upper 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 (adjoining the remains of an air-raid shelter from the Second World War - an 'Anderson shelter') couldn'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 area, 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 area. (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 includes  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 area, where the changes have been more radical, apart from one photo showing a view inside the greenhouse of the upper area. 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:


'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 area, 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: 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 growing area 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 growing area

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


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 area 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 area 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 area.

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.

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.

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 area, was becoming hazardous and unusable, deep in slippery mud. The walkway overcomes the problem.

Below, another slight 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.


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

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


A structure constructed in the main orchard (there are other fruit trees in other areas): a shelter with space for storage of apples, and, also, drying and storage of potatoes after lifting. The doors are the doors of a cupboard, not doors that can be walked through. The cupboard isn't fully enclosed, since good ventilation is desirable for storage of apples.  Apples are also stored in wooden trays on top of the cupboard.

Upper growing area

Late August

A new structure, a shed I designed and constructed, sited in front of the existing shed, which was bought: the only structure which I haven't designed and built myself. The new structure is well insulated. Like the structure described in the section above, this has a roof of sheet metal.

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.

Photographs taken 21 May

Lower growing area

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 growing area, 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 the mud 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 area, 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.


Above, two structures of the same design constructed during the year in different growing areas. Straw bales in a storage area can be seen in the second photograph.

Above, a view from the platform which forms part of the greenhouse area. In the distance, some of the buildings of the primary school. In the foreground, the tall hop plant (Humulus lupulus, var.'Target') growing up its support. To the left and right, runner bean plants growing up wigwams of canes, with an apple tree partly visible on the far left. Photo taken in July.

A 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. This is an important advantage.

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.

Above, a simple sieve for removing rocks and stones from soil. Commercial sieves often make use of  horizontal mesh.. The soil falls through the mesch whilst the rocks and stones are left on the mesh. Very quickly, the rocks and stones cover the mesh and have to be removed before sieving becomes an efficient process again. In my design, the soil falls through the central area of the mesh whilst the rocks and stones fall to one side or the other of the mesh. The sieving process can be a continuous one. The structure has an alternative use - for growing climbing peas, which are sown inside the structure, not far from the two lower edges of the mesh.

July. The lower growing area, view from the road after sunset.  On the far right, the 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.