I love this time of year in the gardening calendar. The coldframe at home is bursting with young plants, chomping at the bit like horses in the stalls, ready and psyched for the race ahead. The garden has filled out and hidden any bare earth with growth – weeds or otherwise. It’s mainly a riot of sky blue forget-me-nots beneath dusky pink aquilegia and hardy geraniums, with dark purple tulips poking through. The plot is starting to take shape, the beds have all been dug over with either homemade compost, blood fish and bone, or manure. Some of them are fully planted, some have little reserved signs on them, just waiting for the threat of frost to pass us by. It won’t be long now.
The climbing bean supports are up, my usual bamboo canes have been updated this year with bendy willow. They wouldn’t do so well for a sturdy A-frame, but for wigwams they are perfect, their thick bases making for a stable base, and their wispy top ends bend easily together for strapping with twine. They look a lot nicer too and I can’t wait to see them covered with beans.
I might be turning into a traditionalist in my old age, but I don’t think an allotment plot would be complete without some kind of climbing structure on it, and once mine are up, I feel oddly satisfied. This year I’m growing a mixture of District Nurse and Gramma Walters (both heritage, speckled borlotti types), Fasold, a regular stringless green variety that’s quick growing, and Lazy Housewife, another heritage variety, but white and supposedly the beans being rich and buttery. The name derives either from their proliferation, their easiness to pick or pod depending on what you read. Who cares, all I know is, gardening in general turns me into a very lazy housewife.
The plum tree is covered in tiny fruit, the apple tree still covered in blossom and the pine berries (planted last spring but no fruit) are thankfully also covered with flowers. So all good things to come there. The overwintering onions and garlic are starting to fatten up. The asparagus has tentatively started to produce – only 3 or 4 spears at a time at the moment, devoured like a vintage fine wine. It’s interesting how once something becomes a glut, it quickly becomes so passé. The first courgette is like green gold, the 50th like a school dinner chore.
The mange-tout peas and lettuce are romping away, as are the broad beans. I’d almost given up on broad beans after a couple of disastrous years with them, but so far so good. Apart from a couple that have suffered from stem rot – where the stem turns black and collapse over for no apparent reason – and the usual attack from the pea and bean weevil – who carve an intricate serrated edging into each leaf – they’ve held up remarkably well. They’re still on the small side but are flowering and producing tiny fruit which is the main thing.
Courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn have all been sown direct. I’m sowing lots more crops directly this year to save on seed compost, space in the cold frame, and transporting of seedlings which often have a shock to the system when planted out. I’m taking a double gamble on them germinating okay and catching up with an otherwise earlier sowing, and there being no more hard frosts, but of course you never know in this country, so if the jet stream changes direction I’ll have to start again. But sometimes in life you have to take a little gamble, and at least I’m only gambling with a few seeds!
I’ve sown some more spinach, as last years has started to go over now, and the spring onions, beetroot, and parsnip seeds have all germinated. The carrots are a bit sketchy, so a second sowing has been added between the rows of peas, as they have a curtain of environmesh around them to protect them from the pigeons, so it can now double up as carrot fly protection. About the only beds left to fill are for the tomatoes and chillies which will get planted out by the middle of the month. The tomatoes will be under planted with basil. I don’t have a huge amount of luck growing basil outdoors, but if I can gather enough to make some pesto at the end of the season I’ll be happy.
Lastly I have a reserve army of annual flowers for final gap filling. Sunflowers, cosmos, calendulas, cornflowers, scabious and zinnias. Last year I felt I had more space than I needed and I struggled to efficiently fill the space, eventually allowing some beds to go rampant with nasturtiums, but I’m determined to fill every square inch this year. Talking of nasturtiums, they have already started to pop up here and there, some will get weeded out, some will be left alone where I know there’s space for them, and some will get transplanted to a more appropriate space. They’re a useful ground cover under sweetcorn, around courgettes and between brassicas where they act as a sacrificial lamb for cabbage whites and blackfly.
I’ve made a start on re-edging and straightening out the main path which has gradually crept inwards, and the herb bed needs a bit of sorting out. So there’s still work to be done, but we’re getting there. Thank heavens for the lighter evenings and a bit more rain recently. I’m looking forward to seeing the plot full of growth and hope to give you a little walking tour video, so watch this space.