I'm never in any danger of neglecting food production in the two allotments 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 (I don't eat myself the edible nasturtium leaves and flowers which grow in the two allotments.) 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. Even the plainer, less sensuous, less beautiful plants of all kinds interest me. 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 bonanas or imported food products in general.
Cameras are unsatisfactory gadgets, of course, 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 than capture or look at two dimensional images. The three dimensional area, for anyone able and inclined to visit it, is by the wall of Rivelin Primary School, Morley Street, Sheffield. Some of the upper allotment is visible from Morley Street, together with much more of the lower allotment. There's a path parallel with Morley Street which begins at Walkley Bank Road and ends at the two allotments. It gives a much better view of the top allotment and, obviously, a very different view of the lower allotment. There's also a path from Morley Street (the first path after the school) which gives a short-cut to the main path.
Below, view of the upper allotment. Like the lower allotment, 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 (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 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.
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.
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.
'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
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: 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.
Above, two structures of the same design constructed during the year in the top allotment and the lower allotment. Straw bales in a storage area can be seen in the second photograph.
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.
All the photographs in this section were taken on a single day of the
year, 19 September.
Above, a view of the pond which I constructed to replace the much smalerl pond which had lasted for ten years or more. The cheap pond liner I used for the pond failed. The new pond is made of much more substantial liner, together with underlay. All the plants in the pond and near the pond are British natives. The wooden walkway over the pond gives access to the growing area at the bottom of the allotment.
Above, a water collecting surface which directs water to the new pond in rainy weather and reduces the need to use tap water. 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.
Below, the structure which was begun most recently and is unfinished, an extension to the greenhouse with two 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 is intended to house the hydraulic apple pressing machine I designed and constructed, and for plant propagation - the two polycarbonate walls will let in enough light. And for shelter in poor weather - the building is well insulated.
The straw bale building with a bank of nasturtiums on the right and a
cylindrical protective structure visible on the left.
Not a view of the same bank planted with Nasturtiums but a different band, a lower one. The bank below was constructed, using privet branches cut from overgrown privet bushes covered with soil.
Another view of this lower bank, with nasturtiums, and of the greenhouse and straw bale extension.
Another structure. The aluminium framework supports netting, not shown here, for protecting brassicas, in this case oriental vegetables, from the birds.
In the photograph above, to the left of the wooden composter, two winter squash plants are visible, with part of an orange squash fruit just visible.
Three more 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.
Above wild flowers eg the yellow flowers of corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) and grasses growing in infertile soil, and a courgette mound, the courgette plant growing in a wide pipe which leads to fertile soil. The pipe is shown in the next section.
A potato bed with Kestrel second early potatoes
Lettuce plants growing below the potato bed.
Below, a 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.
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. The Bramley apple tree here is on dwarfing rootstock and is too young to have reached full production. Some of the Nasturtium plants on the lower bank are visible.
Most of the hazel trees I planted are now quite large. The cultivated 'hazel' trees are cobnuts and filberts. 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 as the others.
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 doesn't leave me with a dilemma. I've worked for animal welfare over a long period of time, actively working against the factory farming of animals, fur farming, and the use of animals in circuses. Unlike some people, I would never rescue grey squirrels or oppose control of grey squirrels. I'm ready to control grey squirrels myself. 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 above 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.
A structure constructed in the orchard area, a shelter with space for storage. 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.
A new structure, a shed I designed and constructed, sited in front of the existing shed, which was bought.
Photographs taken 21 May
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.