In the three weeks or so since I last blogged, the allotment has filled into abundance. (Its own version of abundance, mind, let’s not get carried away…) A good month later than normal, I’m filling multiple vases from one morning’s flower cutting, the fridge has spare courgettes and the freezer is filling with raspberries. Squash plants threaten to over-run the place, and sunflowers reach up high in shades of cocoa, maroon and saffron. Finally, there is some satisfaction.
There’s also been a birthday. We’ve kept Harry alive for four whole years, marked as ever with a gigantic chocolate cake topped with more chocolate and edged with…chocolate. The last month has been challenging, with work and illness, forever feeling behind, making it even more important to mark special events when they occur.
Let’s do an allotment tour. The cosmos is behaving very oddly this year, putting on inches and inches of lush green growth, but barely any flowers. I turned to Instagram for answers and was advised by @Arthurparkinson that the issue is the seed: sourced from hotter climates than our own, the plants have a much longer growing season, so they just put on greenery and frankly can’t be bothered to flower. He advises pinching them out hard to give them a shock. Cosmos Purity and Dazzler are apparently the worst offenders – just what I’m growing. The few stems that I do pick last well, far better than the smaller, crimped flowering stock from earlier in the year. They go into a romantic vase with cornflowers (still going strong, incredibly), ammi visnaga and a few white pompom dahlias.
Growing behind the cosmos are the chrysanthemums, which this year are tall, healthy and (surprise surprise) late. We won’t be picking them seriously for for a few weeks yet. The sunflowers have finally come into their own, in rich autumnal shades, and they tower over the squash, nasturtiums and marigolds. I’m pleased with it all.
The hops are late too. Matt still harbours ideas of making beer, but in the 8 (?) years of growing them he’s never managed it once. It’s more likely that these will end up in Christmas wreaths and boughs, along with dried hydrangeas, teasels, poppy heads and rosehips.
I don’t normally have courgettes coming into their own at the same time as the winter squash ripen. But that’s just what’s happened this year: after sitting in complete dormancy for weeks, finally I’m cropping several courgettes a week, and in the meantime the Jack Be Little squash are turning orange. The larger varieties are fattening nicely too; I’ll report on those at harvest time.
Dahlias are of course the queens of the September flowerbed. Just three of these orange cactus types can fill a vase, and I have them dotted around the house in their look-at-me glory. I have failed to take note of the varietal names of any of them other than Labyrinth (the coral one pictured at the back), a favourite. Next year I must grow more. I use them fresh, but other flowers are meant for drying, notably the teasels, of which I’ve harvested box fulls. I’ve now ripped the teasel plants out for fear that these 10-foot whoppers would self-seed on our neighbouring plots, making me Public Enemy #1. Note to self: if grow teasels again, be sure NOT to accidentally grow the giant variety.
We were meant to be in Cornwall this week, which alas didn’t happen in the end, so I’m using the time to get the put-it-off-until-next-week jobs done. It occurs to me that this is the first week I’ve had off work for one entire year, which is madness, and then I spend this time doing serious hard graft, which is also madness. It’s good to get the jobs done though; if I didn’t keep putting them off, they wouldn’t be so difficult. This stretch behind the sunflowers was meant to be my perennial/bulb area, planted with lavender, tansy and spring bulbs. However the buttercup and couch grass got in, choking the plants and threatening to overrun the plot. It doesn’t look much but clearing this took four hours hard work.
There’s more to do. The soft fruits are swamped with long grass again, and the area that I’m eyeing up for tulips is thick with self-sown marjoram. Weed control is the absolute number one bane of the allotmenter’s life.
More happily, there are creative tasks too. The biennials that I sowed back in June have thrived, and I’ve remembered to actually plant them out far earlier than I normally do, hoping that the warm weather will allow the plants time to get firmly established before the cold comes. The broad beans came up about a fortnight ago, and in their place go sweet Williams, honesty and sweet rocket. Come May, I should be picking buckets of lovely blooms.
Gardening shows/books often advise in July and August to stop, relax and breathe it all in; to admire what you’ve created. What bunkum. I have realised that both my allotment and garden are at their most stressful in high summer, because things have a) either not worked out how I wanted, so I’m disappointed, b) got over-run with weeds, so I’m cross, or c) need picking NOW NOW NOW so there’s yet another job to do amongst all the others (looking at you peas and courgettes in a good year). September into October is surely the best time, when there are low-maintenance flowers to pick (dahlias just do their own thing); when the cavolo nero and pentland brig kale sit quietly waiting for a chop whenever I feel like it; when the raspberries turn red in abundance; when the squash tantalisingly fatten. Yes, this is the golden time. Though I do wish that all the jobs/weeds would take care of themselves.
Also this week (month):
Harvesting: Dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, cornflower, ammi visnaga, teasel, amaranthus, cavolo nero, pentland brig, russian red kales, chard, a few carrots, courgette, raspberries (they’re really going for it now), a few sparse meagre French beans, a few cherry tomatoes. Broad beans ended about two weeks ago. Buying up early English apples and pears from the local farm shops.
Jobs: Dug out the lavender patch of couch grass and buttercups. Started prepping ground by dahlias for spring bulbs. So much weeding. Took up broad beans and planted out biennials, savoy cabbage and kohl rabi, though I have not much hope for the latter. The climbing French beans that I planted directly are finally now flowering, after what feels like months of irritation at their performance. At home, re-seeded the lawn and dug/manured back bed ready for spring bulb planting.
Cooking: Invited my parents over for two-rib roast beef with all the trimmings and the Chapel Down sparkling rose that I bought in Kent for my birthday, to mark keeping Harry alive for another year. Made a massive chocolate birthday cake alongside kids’ party tea of pink wafers, pizza and capri sun. Cooking and eating has gone badly this month due to work, illness and strange bedtimes, and I’ve been even buying M&S ready-meals for myself, which is a sure sign of being out of balance.
Reading: I’ve recently given up on too many books to mention but I am enjoying How to be Sad by Helen Russell and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Plus the Sarah Raven podcast and Ramblings on BBC Sounds.