Sweet potato & pumpkin curry

In the two-and-a-bit months since the baby was born, the allotment has gone from high summer productivity to sodden and vaguely overgrown. The so-called compost bin is overflowing with the debris of the season, sunflower stalks, hop vines and mouldy chard. The veg patches are green with weeds and the fruit bushes are bare saved for the buds of new life, already visible on the branches. I pop down when I can for a spot of tidying – the success of this depends entirely on what mood Harry is in, and how much sleep I’ve had (or not had) the night before.

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Harry is not much help when it comes to allotmenting

I’ve covered both of the main beds with black plastic, partly to keep the weeds down over winter but also because I don’t know how much I’ll get around to cultivating next year. Left uncovered this soil becomes a carpet of weeds in a blink of an eye; this is a case of an hour’s work now saving me serious amounts of graft come spring.

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If left to its own devices, the allotment would be this overgrown all over

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I’ve put black plastic over the beds to keep the weeds down

There’s not much to pick now but the cavolo nero is still going strong, as is the kale and chard. What I do have though is a serious pile of pumpkins; having served their time as Halloween decorations, it’s time to transfer them to the pot.

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Cavolo nero still going strong, as is the kale and chard

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Pumpkins form the basis of this easy curry

This is an easy curry that I have shamelessly pinched from Nigella Lawson, though in truth it’s more the kind of dish I’d expect to find on a yoga retreat than from a ‘sleb chef. It’s vegan (shock!) and cheap (horror!), and more to the point I am able to cook up a massive vat of it in the few minutes that the baby is asleep in the afternoon. If you’re not lucky enough to have a pumpkin pile at home, use butternut squash instead.

Sweet potato and pumpkin curry
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson. Makes loads, about 8 portions.

1 red onion, cut into chunks
1 red chilli, stalk removed
Thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp turmeric
2 heaped tsp whole coriander seeds, bashed in a pestle and mortar (or 1 tsp ground coriander)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 vegetable stock cube (I use low salt)
Sunflower oil
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
1 large sweet potato, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/2 pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
Juice of 1 lime

First, make the curry paste. In the food processor, whizz together the onion, chilli, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon  and stock cube, adding a splash of water to help it combine if needed.

In a large casserole or stock pot, warm the oil over a medium heat and add the curry paste with a pinch of salt. Fry for a few minutes until the oil begins to separate from the paste. Add the solid coconut cream from the top of the tin of coconut milk, fry for a few minutes more, the add the rest of the coconut milk and tomatoes. Swill both tins out with water and add to the pan.

Finally slide in the sweet potato and squash, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook until the veggies are soft – about half an hour. Some of the squash will disintegrate into the curry, which helps it to thicken. Season with more salt and lime juice to taste, then serve with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt.

Pictures of autumn

Somehow we’re deep into autumn. I say ‘somehow’ as I didn’t really notice the summer (was working too hard) and then September vanished into a new baby fug. I am still in new-baby-fug of course, and will probably stay in the fug for the next 18 years, BUT we are now able to leave the house and generally do stuff. (This all depends on how many times I’ve been up in the night of course. But let’s live positively.)

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Cousin Sue made an amazing patchwork quilt for Harry

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Meeting the pigs at Clive’s Fruit Farm

The allotment has turned into a jungle in my absence – I find this very stressful but have decided it’s good practice in learning the art of going-with-the flow. Harry’s visited a few times, hanging out in the greenhouse whilst I harvest and weed.

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Harry’s made a few visits to the allotment….he hangs out in the greenhouse

The annuals are finished now but the greens and purple beans are still going strong – they are surviving slugs and caterpillars and whitefly and weeds. The massive foliage of the squash patch has died back to reveal a treasure-trove of striped fruits, just in time for Halloween, and the self-seeded nasturtium are threatening to take over completely. All those summer months of prodding and weeding, but it’s taken two months of no intervention for much of the harvest to come good.

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The autumn clean-up has started veeeerrrrry slowly. The sunflowers and cutting flowers have been taken up and that’s about it.

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In the last two months the greens have become a weeded jungle. Mega chard, mega spinach, massive beans.

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And the self-seeded nasturtiums have made the sweetpea netting their own

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Better late than never, we finally have a massive harvest of stick beans

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The squash harvest!

The light is softer now and the air damp. Small trips to the allotment provide a brief respite from the house, thirty minutes of quiet time.

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Browning leaves, soggy days, muddy boots: pictures of autumn

Harvesting: Final tomatoes, chard, spinach, cavolo nero, frills of hex, squash, stick beans, potatoes (thanks Mum & Dad for digging these), chrysanths
Jobs to do: Oh Lord, EVERYTHING needs tidying up.


I have been ‘encouraging’ Matt to make me a snug box to keep my chrysanthemum plants for over-wintering, but it’s been coming to naught. He’s been leaving the house at 6am and rolling home at 8pm, smelling of wood and glue and enthusing about the set he’s making for a theatre in town. So just like replacing the boarded-up window and putting all our art on the wall, the chrysanthemum box is at the bottom of the To Do list.

But then the other day he popped to the Original Patty Men to drop some stuff off that his friend Matt had made for them (another bearded fabricator with a wickedly dry sense of humour. They share a name, a profession and a workshop. Keep up.) For those not in the know, Original Patty Men are one of the hippest places in the city right now – their Twitter description is ‘purveyors of filth’. Think burgers, craft ale and beards that reach down to navels.

Anyway, the cool OPM chaps have happily gifted my man with an insulated polystyrene crate, the kind that meat and veg get delivered in. So now the chrysanths have somewhere cosy to over-winter, just like Grampy has instructed. Good timing too, as the first winter frosts are taking hold. As soon as it stops raining, I’ll head out and dig up the browning stems.

In the meantime, I harvest the last blooms of the year, alongside a few bedraggled chillies and, pleasingly, tiny winter salad leaves: rocket, mustard, spinach.

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Final chrysanthemums and chillies

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Winter salad leaves doing well under glass

We took much-needed time out this weekend for a bracing autumn-winter walk down Worcestershire lanes. Autumn came late this year and I don’t think it will last long. With the Christmas lights being switched on, and stormy weather, it seems that we are on the brink of season’s change, once again.

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Broadway, Worcestershire

Harvesting: Rocket, chicory, spinach, chard, cavolo nero, frills of hex kale (outside); winter leaves (greenhouse), last crysanthemums

Now is the winter of our discontent

Well yesterday was a bombshell moment wasn’t it? We were awake from 3am, periodically refreshing the news feed on my iPhone, despite knowing that news-checking would only increase the sense of impending doom.

I did expect this outcome, surely we all did: the “cry of the forgotten man” has been a regular refrain in the post-Brexit referendum analysis and in this age of globalisation, it is a cry that is being felt across the Western world. Whilst some people are benefiting from the modern age, so many others feel left behind and the result is an existential crisis that is playing out through society, politics, the media.

My sister-in-law (American but living in London) declared that both countries of which she is a citizen have taken crazy pills. The news today tells us that more people actually voted Clinton than Trump. A nation is divided and it has an impact on the entire globe. On this side of the Pond, we have to watch and wonder what new order awaits.

I have been reading several books lately that were written in the 1930s: some novels, some gardening books, a few memoirs. Yesterday morning, I got to thinking: what must it actually be like to live a time of even greater political uncertainty? Of actual war? With hate speech in the air? What could the ordinary person do to keep themselves sane? And the answer is there in the books*. They got busy. They looked after their own, got their hands dirty, did normal, elemental things to remind themselves of goodness and rightness.

So when there was nothing else to be done, I headed to the allotment and took up the dahlias, now stunted by the first winter frosts. The tubers will go into dormancy, over-winter indoors, and then I’ll plant them out for a new life next spring.

Now it’s grey outside, hailing in fact. But there is always knowledge that spring will come.

Hope must out.

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Dahlia tubers ready for storage

* These books are: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M.Delafield, which is a much, much funnier book than it sounds and worth a read; various novels and gardening literature by Vita Sackville West; and Country Matters and Four Hedges by the extraordinary Claire Leighton. Books on a similar theme (daily life in a time of political extreme) include Alice B. Toklas’ Murder in the Kitchen, which records her life with Gertrude Stein in France during World War One,  and the masterpiece, Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray, telling of life in some of the poorest villages of post-war Europe.

Pictures of autumn

It’s darker (but not that cold), summer has undeniably gone but winter has yet to take hold. Autumn’s grasp sends the city golden, with grey misty mornings giving way to glorious afternoons of sun that shines through the burnished trees in the park, illuminating their branches. Stuck this morning in traffic, I watched how a gust of wind sent yellow leaves flying from a sycamore, each twisting in its descent to resemble a flock of exotic birds.

It’s a good time to get out into the natural world, although on the allotment things are quiet. I’ve been busying myself clearing the back garden of our new house – getting to know our thin soil, sifting through the broken bricks, tiles and glass left by a builder many years ago. It’s not a pretty job, but it will reap returns in the long run.

So there are few words this week…just a reminder to take a moment and absorb the gloriousness of the passing season.

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Blueberry goes out in a blaze of glory

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Chicory ‘treviso’, purple speared with green

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Baby butternut that refuses to ripen

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Dahlia, cavolo nero, chicory, kale

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Still more borlotti beans, marbled green and pink

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My new favourite chrysanthemum, the deepest shade of purple-pink

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The curved petals of these dahlias hold the morning dew

Too many tulips? Never!

Suddenly, there are apples everywhere. We visited Matt’s 90-something-year-old Grampy at the weekend and the first sight on entering the house was these stacked apple crates, plus a sign at the front door claiming apples for sale. I make a mental note to track down a recipe for the Dutch apple cake that I saw in Rotterdam back in May, generously crammed with fruit and topped with cinnamon-spiked crumble.

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Grampy’s apples are literally piling up

Against all odds, the borlotti beans have come up with a bounteous harvest and I picked a carrier bag-full of marbled pods yesterday. The beans inside are big, around the size of a thumbnail, and milky creamy – I prefer them in this youthful state. Rather than dry them, I’ll pod these and stick the beans straight in the freezer, ready to be thrown into chillies and minestrone when needed. So much simpler than the usual palaver of soaking and boiling for a day.

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First picking of borlotti beans

I’ve brought in the ornamental gourds too, in their stripy green and yellow jackets. They’re brightening up the fireplace with autumnal colour.

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The trug of gourds

But the real job of the weekend was getting started on the bulb planting. A few weeks back I went a little crazy, possibly after imbibing a sherry or two, and ordered a massive number of tulips, narcissi and allium bulbs for autumn planting. The idea was to have a patch of spring cutting flowers on the allotment that could just sit there all year round, perhaps being over-planted with lettuce or suchlike once the flowers have died back.

The bulbs duly arrived (the postman warned me over the weight of the box and was incredulous then I said it was bulbs) and I realised that I may have slightly too many. 310 to be precise. Now I am not the best when it comes to spacial awareness, but there was no way that the designated patch was going to take all these…

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A gazillion bulbs waiting to be planted

As the bulbs were going into one patch of clear earth, we simply dig out trenches and laid the bulbs out in grids. I say ‘we’: Matt did the graft whilst I supervised.

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We (read: Matt) dug out an entire trench to make planting easier

I’ve planted in blocks, so that each colour stays together. There was only room for tulips in the end – the allium and narcissi will have to go into pots or into the garden at Herbert Road, which is no hardship. In went (all from Sarah Raven):

Purissima: a pale cream shade

The Dutch Still Life collection: Helmar, Jan Reus and Bruine Wimpel, a deep red flowers offset with a yellow/red fiery striped and a dusky orangey-pink

The Brandy Snap collection: A mixture of smoky silken shades, with Belle Epoque, Bruine Wimpel (again), Cairo, Ronaldo

Spring green: I love this, a pale white with green stripes from the centre of the flower that lead down onto the stem

Moonlight Girl: An elegant yellow with pointed petals

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Covering them back up

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Covered over and levelled, just waiting for the weeds to take over again

The only question now is…will they all grow?! I went home with about 100 bulbs that went unplanted, knowing that there is now no excuse and I MUST make a start on the Herbert Road garden.

Planted: Tulip bulbs
Cleared: Sunflowers
Harvested: Borlotti, still more courgettes, gourd, dahlia, chrysanthemums, chard, spinach, rocket, chicory

Autumn is here

Thank God, the season has turned. Our new house has turned out to be a Victorian ice-box and I’m having to wear cashmere jumpers in my office to keep the chill off (no hardship there). The bright October mornings start with a bite, the windows are covered in condensation until about 2pm in the afternoon and I’m spotting several local squirrels in the back garden as they build their winter nut store.

But what a glorious September; bright and warm but fresh. The apple harvest is in full swing and last weekend I filled two carrier bags at Clive’s Fruit Farm – one with cookers, one with eaters – and the fruits are now making a still-life display of voluptuousness alongside the last of the greenhouse tomatoes.

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Apples, pears and the final greenhouse tomatoes

More excitingly, the first of the spring bulbs arrived this morning! I was perhaps a little, erm, exuberant in my ordering: there’s 240 bulbs here with more on the way. I’ve a combination of tulips, narcissi and allium with a mixture of jewel-bright and neutral, calm shade. Most are destined for the allotment, some for the back garden, and some for pots. I’ll keep you posted how I get on.

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Spring bulbs arrived this morning!

On the allotment, life is slowing down but is definitely not yet finished for the year. The greenhouse is empty now, other than the final chilli plants, but the gourds are providing never-ending club-shaped green fruit. I actually planted a gourd mix but only one type seems to have thrived, and to my mind it is the least attractive, so next year I’ll go back to the drawing board with some properly orange, gnarled and suitably witch-y varieties.

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A pile of gourds are seasoning on the drying rack

The sunflowers are elegantly dying back but they will stay in the ground for a few weeks for their seeds to ripen. Why pay tuppence a bag to feed the birds when you can grown your own seed-heads for free? I love the statuesque height of these browning heads, swaying in the early autumn wind. There’s still plenty of smaller blooms to pick, and they’re going in the vase with the pumpkin, bronze and lemon-coloured chrysanthemums.

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Sunflowers are ageing gracefully

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I am leaving the heads on so that the seeds ripen: free food for the birds

The dahlias are the gift that keeps on giving. In the last few weeks this yellow bloom has popped up: left in the ground last summer to over-winter, it has taken its own sweet time to grow but now that it has, what a shade it is! Dahlias Labyrinth (the fat one) and Totally Tangerine (the daisy shaped one) evoke the shades of sunset but Labyrinth, I discover, is an anomaly: it should be a compacted anenome-shape but ours has turned out with a curious mis-shaped centre. There is, of course, great beauty in the ‘fault’.

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Bright brash colour from the dahlias

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Labyrinth is meant to be far more compact than this

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The sea of zinnia and cosmos

But what is there to eat? Well, the chicory, spinach and winter leaves are going great and I pulled the last of the sweetcorn to freeze for another day. The borlotti are fattening nicely and, believe it or not, I’m STILL pulling the sodding courgettes. As for the raspberries: I am now so sick of them I’m afraid they are rotting on the canes.

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Borlotti beans approaching harvest time

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Raspberries are now rotting on the vine, they are so prolific

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The trombocino (aka Sea Monster) squash

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Season’s eatings

It’s not all great news. The brassicas, once the plat-du-jour of our foe the slug, has now become a des-res for billions of whitefly. That is not an exaggeration. The leaves are covered in egg sacks and sticky black sooty mould, essentially rendering them inedible. The RHS says to spray them with a weak washing-up liquid solution, which I did, but it has made not the slightest difference.

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Billions of white fly have taken up residence in the brassicas, leaving sooty mould on the leaves

And then there’s the rosemary, which had grown far too great for its station in life and received a well-deserved hack. The compost bin is now even more of a disaster then before.

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Will someone help sort out the compost heap please?!

Apparently this is the time to slow down, but the jobs are piling up in my head: get the grass edges tidied up, pull out the summer planting, sort out the back garden at the house (a MASSIVE JOB), get the bulbs planted, remember to actually cook some stuff, try and think creatively for next year (a contradiction in terms of course).

The new terms begins.


Planted out: Seedlings of winter lettuce and greens gifted by Natalie Schwarz
Sowed: Autumn sowings of hardy annuals (ammi, cornflower, sweetpeas, calendula, nigella); greenhouse sowing of winter leaves (Tuscan mix, SR Winter mix, spinach Mediana)
Harvesting: Final stick beans, all the sweetcorn, first borlotti beans, final tomatoes, final aubergines, final courgettes (but I’ve been saying that for a month), gourds, trombocino, raspberries, chicory, chard, spinach, winter salad mix, salad rocket, wild rocket, beets, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnia, chrysanthemums. Would be picking cavolo nero if it weren’t covered in whitefly.
Cleaned out: Tomatoes, sweetpea sticks, trimmed the massive rosemary and oregano bushes

Chrysanthemums Illustrated

You may remember that last year my head was turned by an unlikely amour: the humble chrysanthemum. I loved the way that they burst into colourful life just as the cosmos and sunflowers were dying back, plus they have a whiff of retro nostalgia about them. I mean that quite literally: the smell of chrysanthemums takes me straight back to Hanley Swan churchyard, where my Mum would take me to lay flowers on my grandparents’ grave. The flower of choice was always chrysanths, no doubt because they last so extraordinarily long in the vase.

Then it turned out that Matt’s family had their own connection to these bounteous blooms: Granny and Grampy had their own cottage industry, growing and selling them by the armful from their front garden. Matt grew up surrounded by chrysanthemums and remembers plants covered with paper bags to protect the massive flowers from the rain. His job was to check each paper bag to see when the flowers were ready for picking.


Matt’s Granny checks her blooms. We’re not sure when this photo was taken, though probably late 1990s/early 2000s.


Black florest’s buckets filled the house in the autumn

Along with the carnation, a lot of people now loathe chrysanthemums and they have been ridiculously out of fashion for a long time. This for me is a good reason to grow them: it’s the job of us younger gardeners and allotmenters to shake things up a bit and come up with new garden aesthetics. They make a brilliant cut-flower, but whilst Matt’s grandparents encouraged single massive blooms (which were fabulous), I’m taken with the spray-style, mainly because they’re much easier to grow.

This year I have several square metres devoted to the chrysanth, using plants grown from cuttings from both Grampy’s plants and my own. Some of these began flowering at the end of July, which is ridiculously early: perhaps they were thrown off kilter by the warm start to the year. The others are just now coming into bloom and so we have oranges, yellows and burnished copper shades on the allotment.

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Grampy’s chrysanths are coming into bloom this week

Last month I came across this book from 1967: Chrysanthemums Illustrated, produced by the National Chrysanthemum Society. It’s full of very serious advice about how to perfect your chrysanths in readiness to win 1st prize at the flower show: they want perfect massive spheres and will go to any lengths to get them. And whilst I won’t be following every rule in the book, there’s a few gems to be learnt from these old-school growers.

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Chrysanthemums Illustrated (1967)

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With practice, maybe I can grow these?

The cycle for the chrysanthemum grower begins in autumn. Once the plants have finished flowering in November/December, you have to remove them from the soil, clean them up and trim them back to the bare stem, and then over-winter them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. The book recommends using tomato boxes to store the rootstock, noting that “any containers must be absolutely clean and it is advisable to use a wood preservative, but it must be emphasised that this should never be creosote.”

Note: creosote is the smell of my childhood, along with coal dust and roast dinners. Sadly the book is not so chemically aware when it comes to pesticides, recommending that we use DDT to guard against woodlice (this nasty chemical is now banned from use) and all kinds of noxious substances against slugs and other invertebrates.

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Storing the rootstock over winter, no creosote allowed.

They advise digging in plenty of organic material into the garden/allotment in the autumn (including hoofs, horn, bonemeal or manure) and then mounding up the soil, much as you would if growing potatoes. The rootstock is encouraged back to life “at about Christmas” with gentle watering, and then cuttings taken from the new shoots. The timing of this is apparently crucial, with each cultivar being slightly different. (This information is useless to me as I failed to note what variety my plants are: I would not make it as a champion grower.) The cuttings are then kept warm using a “mains voltage soil warming wire” set at 6 to 12 volts. A what?! It was presumably much colder in the 1960s.

Once rooted the little plants get potted on, hardened off and eventually planted outside at the start of April. The book, presumably written by a man with a head for straight lines, recommends using canes situated 16 inches apart to mark out a grid of where to plant. Bonemeal sprinkled onto the ground will do “nothing but good”. Suitably staked, supported and mulched, the emerging flower heads must be then protected from the weather with paper bags – just like Granny and Grampy used to do.

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Protecting the blooms from the weather, 1960s-style

The next bit of advice is curious: when picking the flowers, the book recommends bashing the stem with a hammer or pliers before placing it in water. If taking your blooms to the flower show by train, it is recommended that you secure the stems in hurdles and them place them in a wooden crate constructed for the purpose. And once at the show – that’s when you get your tweezers out to perfect your creation.

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At the show. Note that this seems to be an entirely male activity!

Now, it’s fair to say that I will never, never, never approach my gardening like this. It’s too stringent, too full of rules and straight lines…and perhaps I am too lazy. But I’ll persevere with my chrysanths and if I can achieve an autumn with a weekly supply of posies like this, I’ll be very happy. Here’s to a new fashion for the great unloved chrysanthemum.

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Pumpkin-shades sit alongside Grampy’s yellow flowers

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Burnished copper to take us into autumn

The November allotment

Growing, like cooking, is such a grounding activity. The newsfeeds this week filled our laptops and phones with constant information about the dire state of the world, and it’s easy amidst this barrage to lose one’s steadiness. As the days suddenly grow shorter, so the world seems to grow darker (metaphorically and literally: sunset at 4.08pm now). But there is always the promise of longer days and of light to come. There is a lovely quote attributed to Mother Teresa that reads, ‘In this world we can not always do great things, but we can do small things with great love’. As individuals we might feel powerless but we can at least do our best, according to our own means, to spread a little kindness in our world. Ten years of yoga practice has taught me the importance of at least attempting to keep my equilibrium.

And so, when the sun shone this afternoon for what must be the first time in weeks, I seized the opportunity to get out and top up my Vitamin D levels. The skies have slid into a washed out, wintery blue.

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Winter skies are upon us

Oh allotment, I have abandoned ye! The grass that I meant to strim a month ago is now shaggy and long, but still too wet to get near. There are darned weeds growing everywhere (three trug-fulls today), we’ve yet to actually have that bonfire, and everywhere there is the sense that life has slooooooowed right dooooooown, ready for the cold months.

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The allotment is a soggy, grassy state

Unusually energised, I dug over the old raspberry patch – this is the one that’s been under black matting since early spring. I think this ground has not been broken for the best part of 15 years and consequently was full of stones, roots and twigs. Some of the raspberry roots eluded me; someone with greater upper body strength than I will need to get rid of them (Matt, please take the hint). With this ground reclaimed I have a good few extra metres of space to grow pretty flowers in the spring. Hurray!

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The old raspberry patch has been forked over, finally

The bean poles finally got taken up and the worst of the grassy weeds taken out of the beds. All the ground needs manuring now before settling down for a winter kip.

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The beanpoles, corn and sunflowers are a distant memory

The blackcurrant may be dormant but it’s gone down fighting: its buds are clear to see, showing the intent to resurrect itself come April. And those greens – amazingly, the chard, spinach and sorrel are still crisp, croppable, thriving.

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The blackcurrant has set its buds ready for next spring

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The sorrel, spinach and chard deserve medals for long service

The allotments have all faded into subdued shades of brown, with the occasional shot of colour. A neighbour’s apple tree has lost all its leaves but the golden fruit remain, bobbing in the breeze like baubles on a Christmas tree. By the stream, a spray of rosehips are enticingly out of reach, gorgeous and plump.

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Final shot of autumnal floral colour

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Apples on a neighbour’s tree resemble golden baubles in the low afternoon sun

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I love this spray of red rosehips by the stream

Will we ever get around to visiting Chappers to collect her horse manure? Will the bonfire have to wait until next year? Only time will tell.

Harvesting: Winter lettuce, mustard spinach, chard, spinach, sorrel, chicory, leeks, carrots, parsnips, crysanths. Also forked over old raspberry patch, weeded, took out bean and sweetpea canes.


Missed hopportunity

I think I’ve been in the middle of some weird space-time black hole because I have no idea, really no idea, how it is nearly November. I was working so relentlessly on Birmingham Weekender that the summer swept by, and then illness took over, and I’ve emerged to find that the world has skipped on to full blown autumn. Bye bye summer sun, sweet peas, fresh lettuce and courgettes; Hello concrete-coloured skies, chrysanthemums, golden leaves…and game.

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It’s game season again: stock up the freezer whilst it’s good and cheap

The allotment, well-behaved as she is, has been waiting patiently for the past month for someone to come and tidy her up. The sunflowers were over weeks ago, likewise the green beans, courgettes, tomatoes, chillies, cosmos and calendula. Actually, I say cosmos – the self-seeded ones were still going strong at the weekend, but without support were flopping all over the place and so I’ve called time on them all.

We found a few hours last week to begin the big Autumn Clean-Up. The greenhouse has been emptied, sunflowers felled, summer annuals razed. The biggest casualty so far has been the artichoke, who had grown far too big for her boots and so fell victim to the spade.

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Bye bye artichoke

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I will spray some of these gold to decorate the house over winter

It’s not been a bad year, but it’s not been a great one either. The greens that I planted out in April are still cropping – amazing! – keeping us in chard, spinach and sorrel. Likewise the carrots and parsnips are doing OK, and the soft fruit bushes have once again filled the freezer. But the leeks are sad with rust, the tomatoes were bland, and the beans were terrible.

The hop has shown its intentions this year, growing taller and more vigorous than we could have imagined. It was all in vain: we missed the key harvesting time and so once again, the aromatic cones are destined for the bonfire. It’s a perennial, which is perhaps our problem: there is always next year, the next harvest, and we’ll do it better then.

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The hopolisk has come down…

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…but whilst beautiful, these hops are too far gone to be useful

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Though we are now pulling monster carrots!

I’ve not bought any flowers since late spring (bar the odd lily), which is a minor personal victory. My cut flowers have not been magnificent, but (to my mind at least) better: small, charming, happy, bright little posies for the kitchen table. First came the delicate sweetpeas, ammi and nigella, then the summery cosmos, calendula and all those characterful sunflower faces, and now the dahlias and crysthanthemums finish the year with a blaze of jewel colour. Next year I hope to start cutting earlier and so I’ve put in spring bulbs – daffodils, tulips and aliums. Fingers crossed for good blooms come March.

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Autumn bulb planting has started: daffodils, tulips and aliums

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Bright blooms for the house

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This pumpkin-coloured crysanth is my absolute favourite flower of the year

Not content with flowers, I’ve been foraging for autumn windfalls. Not fruit, but hawthorn branches, old man’s beard and other dried stalks. Along with those artichoke heads, I’ll spray-paint them gold and place in a glass vase to make tall and (hopefully) eye-catching Christmas displays. This is recycling, allotment style.

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A basket of autumn delights to decorate the house

There is still work to do. The brassicas are not looking promising, something really must be done about those leeks, and we need to get on with collecting and spreading manure to give the soil a boost (all the fun jobs). But now that it’s dark at 5pm, it’s rather more appealing to curl up with a blanket and a good book. The turn of the year is upon us.

Cleared: Artichoke, courgette, tomatoes, chillies, courgette, cosmos, calendula, sunflowers, all the other summer annuals

Planted out: Winter lettuce mix, chard, mustard spinach

Harvest: Mustard spinach, winter lettuce, chard, spinach, carrots, parsnip, leeks (though they’re battered with rust), dahlia (though not many), crysanths