On this last day of February I cycled to the allotment and spent a sunny morning making and tending a bonfire of the old raspberry canes and fruit tree prunings and planting two rows of shallots. I weeded what will be the potato patch and picked a colander of purple sprouting broccoli. I resisted the temptation to pick rhubarb as today is Shrove Tuesday and we’ll be eating pancakes with sugar and lemon tonight. I noticed the newly planted autumn raspberries are starting to shoot from the base, but nothing else is moving apart from the weeds – oh and daffodils and tulips. I picked the first daffodils from the plot last Friday.
I paced the plot planning this year’s growing and now I’m sitting on the floor and drawing a rough plan onto graph paper. I haven’t made a paper plan since 2014, a bad omission as I like looking back on my plans of what I’ve sown, planted and harvested. I see I used to be much more experimental growing over 40 different varieties of fruit and vegetables – not all of them successsfully. Nowadays my plot has more space devoted to perennial plantings which fits with my ‘no dig’ permaculture approach to growing. I’ve been allotmenteering for 16 years and in the early years I grew as many flowers as I did vegetables. In the middle years flowers were squeezed out as I tried for maximum self-sufficiency. Now I’m happy to grow only my favourite vegetables especially asparagus, baby broad beans, wet garlic, new potatoes, salad leaves, summer herbs, French and borlotti beans, purple sprouting broccoli and squashes and allow plenty of room for floral experimentation. I also grow rhubarb, summer raspberries, several different varieties of strawberry, autumn raspberries and I have one red gooseberry bush and five (six when I get round to planting my quince) fruit trees. No longer do I grow main crop potatoes, onions, any currant bushes or thorny cultivated blackberries, carrots or parsnips or cabbages. But old habits die hard and I find room for leeks, beetroot, courgettes, cucumbers, chard and kale.
So far this year I have sown a tray of broad beans (Red Epicure) and four pots of sweet peas from saved seed. I have new seed for ‘Spencer Waved Mix’ and ‘Kipper Cream’to sow but this year I would like to extend my sweet pea season to beyond a July heatwave so I will hold onto these until after Easter. I’ve checked through all my seeds today. I don’t order my seeds preferring to call in at my local garden centre on my way to the plot for whatever I need. Luckily they stock Sarah Raven seeds for flowers, Jekka McVicar seeds for herbs and carousels of vegetable seeds.
In other news I’m enjoying my self-directed art appreciation course and on a freezing cold Saturday took the train to Dulwich to visit the small but perfectly formed Dulwich Picture Gallery for a Vanessa Bell retrospective. Vanessa has been a favourite artist for a long time, I love her loose brush strokes and colour sense and the feminity of her paintings. She loved picking flowers from her garden, arranging them in a vase and painting them and clearly had her favourite vases which she used over and over again.
You perhaps won’t be surprised to read that I loved the feel-good modern musical that was ‘ La La Land’ and tomorrow I’m looking forward to seeing ‘Manchester By The Sea’. At the end of the week I’m going to London to see the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain and then catching the bus to Hampstead to visit Fenton House and Erno Goldfinger’s house.
I’ve just looked up to see the sky is a most beautiful pearly rose and there is a silver sliver of moon.
I’m finally ready for 2017 and excited about what this year has to offer. I didn’t enjoy 2016 which I spent in an almost permanent state of anxiety. I feel bad, almost fraudulent, talking about it here because everything that happened was completely self-inflicted and it is over now, yet it still has some residual power. I need to get fitter and stronger in my body and I know that will help my mind. I’m swimming quite hard once a week (I swim 1500m in under 30 minutes) and I know I’m lucky to have so many wonderful walks on my doorstep, but I still need to recover my confidence on my bike and try out my shoulder with a game of tennis. I followed a 30-day on-line yoga course with a teacher from Texas which was great fun. I’ve practised yoga for decades but stopped going to weekly classes a few years ago. I’m good at practising by myself and attend the occasional class at the local leisure centre but I miss the camaraderie of a weekly class with the same bunch of people. But everyday I am feeling a little better and a little more confident and today I feel as if I’ve leapfrogged forward. Tomorrow is a new month and renewal and spring is in the air.