It’s in the Soil

…attempts to define a landscape necessitate judgements of cultural value, and throw up issues of power, authority and pleasure…[1]

The sun shone briefly, before clouds gathered, and rain set in again. We seek shelter in the shed, but not for long; the forecast is for heavy showers and that’s what we’re getting. The site appears deserted, maybe a little neglected, but it’s the season, the time of year. Standing on this hillside, or sitting drinking tea by the fire pit, we seem to have the valley to ourselves. But look again, there’s a scattering of people working their plots between the showers. Someone walks along the track though the valley, a small group passes by on their way to one of the allotments run collectively; during any day there will be people moving about this valley.

New plot holders, above us, have been clearing the skeletal remnants of a polytunnel Joe erected years ago, the plastic sheeting long since disintegrated. Other people moved on after he died, stayed a short time, then left, and with each successive leaving the plot became more neglected, abandoned to bindweed and nettle; it’s now being slowly cleared. Joe’s long since gone, but his presence is felt in the tap he installed by diverting water from the mains, or so he told us during one of our many disputes over access to water. He’d leave a pipe permanently attached to water his tomatoes in the polytunnel. An arson attack leveled his shed, left the Sycamore badly damaged and dangerous.

From the outside, maybe to someone walking the perimeter path, this site probably looks ramshackle, but what they don’t see is a process of constant change and renewal that this common ground undergoes, nor the histories that this land holds. Thinking about Joe, Arthur, talking to Gladys, who’ll soon be 92 and still working her plot; from the outside these lives, and the memories they carry with them of this landscape, remain invisible.

We are all temporary occupants; some will last a season, others, like Gladys and Georgina, stay for years, working, shaping the ground, but always in the knowledge that this land is not ours, doesn’t belong to us, isn’t our private property. The longer we stay, working, shaping, improving the soil, the more we hope the next occupants, strangers to us, will appreciate the work we’ve done over the years, and build on it, but maybe not. Looking at the photograph one of the site reps gave us when we first took on our plot, it has changed beyond recognition; perhaps those who follow us will do the same, and make it theirs for however long they choose to stay. For Crouch & Ward how we relate collectively through the unselfconscious landscape that [we] create […] is part of [our] individual and collective identity. It is and should remain public land, ground that we have responsibility for, land held collectively.

winter allotment view

 [1] Matless, D. (1998) Landscape and Englishness. London: Reaktion Books, p 13

Winter mulching

Non-gardeners treat late autumn & winter as ‘dead’ garden time, while growers see it as possibly the busiest part of the gardening calendar. We’ve been clearing old crops, trying not to over-tidy our perennials so insects have somewhere to overwinter & birds can still harvest seeds, whilst mulching beds in preparation for spring planting.

It’s also a time to strengthen social ties; we were recently over to see Phil & Anne, to collect horse manure from their stables. We could buy it by the wheelbarrow load via our allotment society, which we do when we run out, but we don’t mind shovelling horse manure, playing with Mutley, their Collie, and catching up with Phil and Anne. We gain from our connection with people we’ve developed a relationship with despite, or possibly because, our outlooks can often be quite different.

The allotment society manages the woodlands on the allotment perimeter and we’ve been using some of the felled timber to edge our raised beds where the old scaffolding boards have rotted. Years ago, scaffolding boards were free, not any longer. Scaffolders are cutting up older boards to reuse or selling them to recycling yards that then re-sell them at eye-watering prices. Aesthetically, the uneven nature of the felled timber softens the outlines of our beds; not so regimented, but then, we were never ones for plumb lines and straight edges, with meandering lines across our plot changing over time & use.

Local arboriculturalists provide the allotment site with a regular supply of wood chip, in season. It’s getting low at the moment but dig into the remnants and there’s a good load of older rotted wood chip turned compost we’ve begun using to mulch the potato and garlic beds. A top layer of this rotted woody compost over seaweed, green waste from last year’s crops, and manure on the potato beds should rejuvenate them after intense cultivation & make for wonderfully rich soil.

 

late light allotment

Roedale Valley

This is the first in a series of four short films we are making across the seasons on Roedale Valley, our allotment site, on the edge of Brighton, UK.
Its spring and Gladys and Georgina reflect on the changes that have happened since they first took on tenancies over 30 years ago.

Craven Vale (Jane’s Plot)

This is the 3rd. in our series of short films about Craven Vale allotment site, on the eastern edge of Brighton, UK.
We continue our exploration of the value of these green spaces, in a densely populated urban environment, in the context of the ongoing threat posed by potential development for housing.

 

 

Craven Vale (the carers plot)

This is the 2nd. in our series of short films about Craven Vale allotment site, on the eastern edge of Brighton, UK. This allotment site is currently included in Brighton council’s urban fringe assessment, as potential development land.

We spoke to Sara Padhair-Tutton, who started the carers plot, and Warren Morgan, leader of the Labour and Cooperative group on Brighton and Hove council, about the value of allotments and green spaces in a densely peopled environment.

Craven Vale

We are making a series of short films, over the seasons, about Craven Vale Allotment Site, on the eastern edge of Brighton, UK. The site has been identified, in the Urban Fringe Assessment for Brighton’s City Plan, as potential development land for housing. Nationally, councils have been directed by central government to produce a City Plan. Without a plan which sets out local councils’ development priorities, the decisions on what gets built where, will be taken by central governent without any proper reference to local need and desires. So, this assessment is essential, but, in Brighton, it’s been poorly researched, and with minimal consultation, to date.

These films will capture peoples’ stories of growing, and the value they attach to green spaces on the urban fringe.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning: The principal Art of a Gardner

The principal Art of a Gardner, consists in pruning: for which observe these rules:
Learn first to know the bearing buds from the leafe buds, & those which will be fruite-buds next yeare; sparing all the fruite buds on standard Apples, Peares & wall-fruite with discretion.
(John Evelyn, Directions for the Gardiner: 106).

I am sadly lacking in that discretion about pruning implied by John Evelyn. However, I can learn first to know a fruit bud from a leaf bud by asking advice from more experienced gardeners, as, until now I would be loath to count myself a Gardner, in Evelyn’s sense.

February is cold, but there’s plenty to do: repairs, refelting the shed roof, cleaning tools, preparing beds for spring planting, tidying, getting things in order, feeding the birds. Pruning has never seemed to be one of them, as I’ve not had the confidence to tackle it properly. But this is when we should be pruning our fruit trees. I’ve always meant to do it – through the winter months to February, March at a stretch. Instead, we’ve taken the worst course, hacked branches off when they’ve got in the way or were broken, damaging our smaller apple tree through neglect born of ignorance of its needs, of how we might encourage healthier growth. Continue reading