How to prepare for the year on your allotment

Aerial view of allotments

Spring, whether it’s meteorological (the 1st) or astronomical (the 20th), begins in March. It’s the time of year to begin thinking about getting back down to the allotment again. Before diving straight in, there are a few tasks that need to be taken into consideration.

Ensure you have suitable outdoor clothing & protective footwear

Safety shoe on the allotment

Before you begin any work on your allotment, make sure you’ve got the right kind of gear to wear. Don’t ruin your best pairs of trousers or training shoes – buy some hard wearing clothing that’s built for the jobs in hand and that you don’t mind getting dirty… and of course heavy duty, protective footwear. We’ve all heard those horror stories of people standing on rusty nails or impaling themselves through the foot with a garden fork!

Have a spring clean

Upturned terra cotta plant pots

You probably did a lot of the chores at the end of autumn as the gardening year wound down. However, if you haven’t, this is your last call for completing all these jobs. Tidy the shed and greenhouse if you have one. Sweep paths, remove slippery moss, clean pots, make sure water butts are full, bring the garden table & chairs out of the shed and paint or oil as required… and scrub that barbecue clean in readiness for some al fresco dining!

Prepare the soil

Garden soil

Flower beds and fruit & vegetable plots have probably lain dormant for almost 6 months. Now that the final frosts are almost over, it’s the perfect time to dig over beds, tackle weeds, mulch, rotate compost bins and sow green compost.

Clean & repair your tools

Collection of garden shovels

Why make gardening jobs any tougher than they need to be? Make sure your secateurs and shears are sharpened, shovel and rake handles are secure and free from splinters. Consider a service & deeper clean for electrical items such as lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Organise your planting calendar

Fenced off allotment plot

Organise your planting diary for the year ahead. Look back at what you did last year and rotate beds to avoid disease and pests and maximise yields. Do some research as to what might grow well in your situation and soil conditions… and of course enjoy browsing all those lovely seed catalogues, gardening magazines & books for inspiration and ideas.

Care for wildlife

Hegehog on grass

Not only are they lovely to look at and listen to, wildlife helps to pollinate flowers and they eat pests such as slugs and aphids. You can do lots of things to attract creatures to your allotment. Build insect boxes, provide food for birds, plant insect-attracting flowers, create paths for hedgehogs and find space for a water feature of some kind if possible – even if it’s just an upturned bin lid! It’s one of the single most effective way of attracting wildlife to an outdoor space.

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12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance allotment

12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance vegetable garden or allotment | H is for Home

You may or may not have noticed that we haven’t done an update about our allotment in quite a while. Yes, we still have it. Unfortunately, because of Justin’s back injury, poor weather and neglect due to time pressures, this year has been a wipe out!

In an ideal world, we’d potter about amongst the fruit and veg every day – alas, this just isn’t possible at the moment. We’ve come to the conclusion that, for the time being, we’d be much better off concentrating on low-maintenance perennial vegetables. We’ve done a bit of research online and from Eric Toensmeier’s book, Perennial Vegetables. This is our short list of 12 that we’re going to try out.

Allium fistulosum - Welsh onion

Allium fistulosum – Welsh onion

It may say Welsh on the tin, but this allium actually originates in China. We think it would be perfect for our allotment. Not only is it good for cooking and eating, it’s a beautiful ornamental when it’s in flower. It’s used widely in East Asia in miso soup, stir fries and in salad garnish.

Available here

Allium ursinum - Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Allium ursinum – Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Wild garlic grows… well, wild in lots of places near where we live. We have an old tin bath that we planted up with a few wild garlic bulbs a couple of years ago. It absolutely loves the dark, damp spot where we put it and its spread has already doubled. We’ll dig up a bit of it and replant it in a similar position on the allotment. We look forward to the wild garlic season every year, we use the leaves a lot in cooking.

Available here

Growing asparagus in a pot

Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus

Asparagus is one vegetable that I wish we’d cook and eat more often. It’s always so expensive in the shops – and it’s almost always thick, fibrous spears on offer. Because the soil in or garden and on our allotment isn’t at all sandy, we think we’ll grown a little asparagus in containers. Maybe one green, one white and one purple.

Lots of people say that it can’t grow in pots but we’ve seen on the internet that it can be done. Apparently, the container needs to be very deep with very good drainage – so we were thinking of using a couple of old metal dolly tubs. The downside of container-grown asparagus is that it doesn’t live anywhere near the 10-20 years that it does in open ground and the resulting spears can be a little spindly. The upside is that the taste of asparagus cut from the earth and cooked within hours is incredible – as is the feeling of knowing you’ve grown it yourself.

Available here

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides - Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides – Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

A broccoli that looks like a cauliflower and is a perennial? We’d never heard of it! Each head grows to the size of a tennis ball – so the perfect portion. It would be great roasted or served with a cheese sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Available here

Cynara scolymus - Globe artichokes

Cynara scolymus – Globe artichoke

Yes, it’s a faff to prepare. Yes, there’s a lot of wastage in its preparation. But you never see it in the supermarket and rarely on a veg stall at the market. And it’s such a show-stopping, architectural plant in the garden or on the allotment; we think it earns its place on this list.

Available here

Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Another vegetable that you don’t see in the supermarket, the Jerusalem artichoke (it’s not an artichoke… and nothing to do with Jerusalem for that matter!) is a relative of the sunflower. As such, this perennial root vegetable doubles up as an ornamental having bright yellow flowers on a stem that can grow 5-10 foot tall.

Available here

Matteuccia struthiopteris - ostrich ferns and fiddleheads

Matteuccia struthiopteris – ostrich fern, shuttlecock fern

It’s the young unfurled fronds, or fiddleheads, of the ostrich fern that can be eaten – not raw though. Neither of us have ever tried them, but they are meant be delicious sautéed in butter. They contain omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, fibre, potassium, antioxidants… full of goodness!

Available here

Phaseolus coccineus - Scarlet runner beans

Phaseolus coccineus – Scarlet runner beans

The pods of the scarlet runner bean conceal the most beautiful beans! Eat them in their pods while they’re still young & tender, cook the shelled beans from fresh or dry and store them for a later date. Grow & train the plant up a wigwam or trellis where you can appreciate the scarlet flowers in all their glory. Even the roots are edible – a true perennial all-rounder!

Available here

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum - Solomon's seal

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum – Solomon’s seal

We’ve had a pot of Solomon’s Seal in our garden for years and never knew that it’s an edible plant. Talking of all-rounders, the starchy rhizomes of Solomon’s seal can be used to make bread and soup, the young stems can be eaten like asparagus and it’s used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, sedative and a tonic.

Available here

Rheum rhabarbarum - Rhubarb

Rheum rhabarbarum – Rhubarb

One of my favourites! I love it in pies, crumble and as a compote atop plain yoghurt. We may use it like a fruit, but it’s actually a vegetable, similar to celery.  It’s a beautiful, sculptural plant with its huge, tropical-looking leaves at the end of bright pink stalks. It’s only these stalks that are edible – the leaves are famously poisonous… but they are terrific for the compost heap, the toxic oxalic acid quickly breaks down. Rhubarb is known as a bit of a bully and can become rampant, so keep an eye on its spread. We already have a couple of varieties growing in dolly tubs in our garden.

Available here

Scorzonera hispanica - black salsify

Scorzonera hispanica – black salsify

If you live in a cold part of the country like we do, black salsify can cope with that. Another relative of the sunflower, it has lovely yellow flowers. If you’re growing carrots on your allotment, use this as a companion plant as it’s believed to repel carrot fly. Another nutritious root vegetable, it’s rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and various vitamins.

Available here

Urtica dioica - Stinging nettle

Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle

Most people see stinging nettle as a weed, a pest. Poor thing, it doesn’t deserve that reputation! It’s really versatile. We inherited a couple of patches, which we have left alone, when we took on our allotment (their presence is an indicator of a good quality soil!).

Pick the young leaves (wearing gardening gloves) and cook with them in much the same way as you would use spinach. It’s full of protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. It can be used to brew tea and beer. Use the leaves and roots to make natural dyes. Even the stalks can be used to make a textile similar to linen. Soak it in a large watering can or water butt to produce home-made liquid fertiliser. Insects love it,  If you keep chickens, feed it to them and the yolks of their eggs even more yellow. If you still feel the need to uproot it, put it on your compost heap, it’s full of nitrogen which helps in the breakdown of the organic material. What’s not to love about the humble stinging nettle?

Caring for your Leylandii hedge

Leylandii topiary in the shape of a viaduct at Newtownards, Portaferry Road, Mount Stewart, Northern Irelandcredit

Once you’ve planted your new hedge, your work has only just started! Here’s the low-down on helping your Leylandii trees to grow and thrive.

Leylandii hedge giving privacy around a swimming poolcredit

Keep your trees well watered

You need to make sure the trees get enough water to thrive and that their roots don’t dry out.

If you’re planting them between November and February, they’ll need less water (or none at all if it’s rainy) – compared to if they were planted in spring and summer. If you buy pot-grown Leyland cypress trees from thetreecenter.com you can plant them from March to October just fine, but make sure you water them regularly. Once they’ve gone through one growing season, their roots will have extended enough so that they won’t need additional help from your garden hose.

Long, tall Leylandii hedge with a large urn to give structure and proportioncredit

Here’s how you water them

You should check if your trees need watering by putting a finger into the root ball – or the soil next to the root ball – and judging its dampness. It should be moist, but not waterlogged. You should do this every two or three days throughout the first growing season.

You’ll probably find that new Leylandii need a good watering once or twice weekly, but obviously this depends on your weather and soil type. If you’re planning to go on holiday, use an automated sprinkler or ask a friend or neighbour to water them while you’re away.

Hose the soil around the root ball until the water starts to run off, then move along to the next tree. Wait for the water to sink in before repeating this process three or four times.

You might imagine that rain is enough to keep your trees watered, but often summer rain isn’t heavy enough, so it would be a good idea to invest in a rain gauge. The average Leylandii needs around a ¼-inch of rain to provide it with enough water for three days during the summer months. If you’re not getting that from the sky, you’ll need to intervene! Step in before the foliage starts to wilt and before the roots dry out.

Giant Leylandii hedgecredit

Drought symptoms

When Leylandii get too dry or too wet, you’ll see the leaves turn yellow, then brown. This starts at the bottom of the plant near the trunk, before spreading.

As you’d imagine, drought symptoms are most often caused by the lack of water, but similar symptoms can also be down to too much water. Don’t leave an automatic sprinkler on for too long, and if you’re planting in heavy clay, break it up with a garden fork or shovel so excess water can drain downwards and sideways. Otherwise, the roots will rot and this means they stop working, leading to water not reaching the foliage.

Trimming a Leylandii hedgecredit

How to establish and maintain your hedge

You can begin to trim your trees as soon as you’ve planted them – lop off any branches that are too high or long and this will encourage shoots to grow within your ideal shape, thickening the hedge. When the tops of the trees get to about six inches from your desired height, trim the tops, which will thicken out the width.

Once your hedge is established, you only need to trim once a year.

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Gordon Rigg anniversary allotment

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Gordon Rigg installation with vintage photos and delivery bicycle

Our local garden centre, Gordon Rigg, is celebrating its 70th year in business.

Cardboard cut-out photo of Gordon Rigg, part of the garden centre's 70th anniversary allotment installation

It started as a small market stall and has grown over the decades into a huge garden centre – in fact they now have more than one outlet.

Cream coloured vintage car with Gordon Rigg livery

We popped in on Sunday to pick up tomato feed and chain saw oil ( it’s one of those places where you can buy almost anything!).

Vintage Gordon Rigg delivery bicycle

They had installations marking the anniversary, so we took a few snaps.

part of the Gordon Rigg garden centre's 70th anniversary allotment installation

We were quite taken by the vintage allotment – weathered greenhouse, galvanised metal containers, old tools – and a cosy shed to rest, listen to the radio and drink tea.

Garden shed, part of the garden centre's 70th anniversary allotment installation

It’s just our kind of thing – allotment chic!!

Lemon fresh!

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growing lemon seedlings in a vintage oversized tea cup | H is for Home

I first got the idea of growing my own lemon plants from a pin I came across on Pinterest.

Vintage oversized tea cup, lemon seeds, gravel and compost

It looked really easy so I collected all the pips from lemons we used in cooking for a few weeks.

Planting lemon seeds in a vintage oversized tea cup

When I had a handful, I was ready to go. I opted for this lovely oversize cup as a container – you can choose anything you fancy – cups, old tins, boxes etc. Some gravel in the bottom to prevent water-logging and multi-purpose compost to cover. Done!

Germinating lemon seeds in a vintage oversized tea cup

The pips were planted in February and small shoots appeared in June, so it took quite a while for them to start germinating – I have to admit that I nearly gave up on them! They got a day in the sunshine as encouragement & reward when I saw those first shoots appear.

Lemon seedlings growing in a vintage oversized tea cup

Look at them now! The bold, brightly coloured pattern of the cup contrasts with the glossy green foliage of the young lemon plants. It looks fabulous on our kitchen window sill… and they smell gorgeous when you rub a leaf between your fingers – fresh and citrusy.

Lemon seedlings growing in a vintage oversized tea cup

I can leave them in the cup as they are now and have lots of these pretty dwarf plants – or perhaps pot these on to get larger lemon trees and start again with the pips. A fully fledged lemon business maybe!

Cactus cups

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Vintage cups planted up with mini cacti | H is for Home

We’ve got a box full of random pieces of vintage crockery – kept in store just in case we need them to make up sets. To be honest, this doesn’t happen that often so we decided to give them a new life in a different way.

Stack of vintage cups

Amongst the selection are a whole host of lovely cups – the perfect home for small plants. We did something similar with colourful tins some time ago.

Vintage cups and supplies to plant up with mini cacti

So it was off to our local garden centre where we bought small cacti, succulent compost and fine gravel.

Vintage floral cup with base layer of fine gravel

As there are no drainage holes, start with a good layer of gravel to prevent water-logging. You’ll still need to avoid over-watering though – especially in the winter.

Vintage floral cup with middle layer of special cactus compost

Certain cacti seem to suit certain cups – whether it’s the size, shape, form or colour.

Vintage floral cup with middle layer of special cactus compost

Surround with the succulent compost and firm in.

Vintage floral cup planted up with a mini cactus and top dressing of crushed shell

Finish with an attractive top layer – we chose this crushed shell mix that they had in the aquarium section of the garden centre.

Vintage floral cup planted with a mini cactus

And voilà – cactus in a cup!

Vintage cups planted up with mini cacti | H is for Home

We think they look gorgeous – especially in a small grouping. We kept a few for ourselves and took some to our antiques centre space, where they’ve found a nice home on a window sill.