On our Winter Allotment

The first snow of the year has come and gone, melting in the weak winter sun. We’ve moved the artichokes and, essential in this weather, lit a fire in the fire pit to keep warm when we have our tea. We’re now more or less finished reorganising an area of the allotment that has resulted in creating more beds for growing vegetables, as well as garden areas.

The wet weather before Christmas resulted in a backlog of bulbs sitting in trays, waiting to be planted. A mix of alliums, tulips & the last of the daffodils, along with a few Allium bulgaricum & a bag of fritillaria assyrica left over from the autumn planting. The unseasonably warm weather has allowed us to continue transplanting & re-siting well into winter; it also means planting bulbs is still feasible, if rather late. It is risky, but worth attempting rather than tipping the lot into the compost bin – some of the daffodil bulbs, a few of the tulips, & a significant number of the allium bulgaricum have gone mouldy, while the fritillaria seem to have shrivelled up, but enough look sufficiently healthy to make planting them worth the risk.

Using raised beds has enabled more intensive mixed vegetable planting over the year, & enabled us to think about how we use the space on our plot differently. We’ve started to create bands of flowering plants across the allotment to encourage bumble bees, as well as butterflies; the teasel & echinops seed heads were recently visited by a charm of goldfinches, justifying our decision to leave tidying until the beginning of spring.

The re-siting of the fruit trees left us room for a new Iris bed, at the bottom of a slope which catches the sun all day & tends to bake during the summer, ideal for Iris Germanica –Bearded Iris, as the tubers need to bake in order to encourage the plants to produce flowers. Teresa dug up the iris tubers, which had become ridiculously congested, cut out the old rotten sections & replanted 4” sections with strong flags. The usual time to lift & move Bearded Iris is in July, after flowering, but we didn’t have a new bed ready for them, so it didn’t happen. Moving them now is a risk, & they’re unlikely to flower this year, as they put their energies into establishing their root systems. However, we’re also experimenting with mixed plantings, creating drifts of irises, with alliums interplanted amongst the tubers, & possibly drifts of Achillea in between. The idea is to have contrasting textures amongst the iris flags, & flowers right into autumn-we’ll have to see if this all works-it’s the excitement of experimenting, trying different combinations.


winter allotment

Meeting Fox

I’d been clearing the compost bins at the back of the allotment, stopped for a while, and was sitting quietly watching the birds feed: Robins, Tits, Sparrows, landing on the Lilac, circling round the feeders, pecking at the seeds, flying off again. Not so the squirrel: straight across the shed roof onto the apple tree, and then balancing on a branch it swung the feeder, scattering seeds. Still, the ground feeders would benefit. I sat watching three Robins perched on different branches of the Lilac on the border of our allotment. They didn’t appear too concerned about each other’s presence. Curious, but I thought Robins were fiercely territorial?  Maybe cold, snow, and hunger temper territorial behaviour?

And then a fox wandered past, looked at me, seemed about to carry on, stopped, sat down, yawned, stared at me, while keeping just the necessary distance to move if need be. Teresa was further down the hill repairing a salad bed; the fleece had collapsed under the weight of snow, and I didn’t want to call out in case I frightened the fox. So we sat together, me drinking tea, the fox watching. It didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to be going anywhere, then simply turned and left, wandering away across the next allotment. I remembered a story a friend told me; how he was sat, half asleep, on a bench in the centre of Brighton one night, nibbling sweets, when he felt a rough tongue licking his fingers. It was a fox. They sat watching each other, the fox in no particular hurry to go anywhere.

It seems the fox, successfully adapting to the margins between urban and rural environments, has an ambivalent status, reflecting our own contradictory and destructive natures, so that, as Wallen has argued, in relation to colonialism, even as a wild animal the red fox reminds us of what we would like to forget-that humans entering nature tend to change it irrevocably […] (Wallen, 2006: 33)


I’m fascinated by fox’s mythic and folkloric aspects; its fluid nature allows for the possibility to dissolve those borders and boundaries that are established around the visible, material world. It’s interesting to note that Wallen sees, [m]oral condemnation of Vulpine intelligence achiev[ing] its fullest development in the Christian tradition (Wallen, 2006: 45).

For the Christian tradition, the fact that fox inhabits the margins, that fox’s knowledge lies underground, beyond human understanding, […] identical with the living power of the earth (Wallen, 2006: 57), is an indication of its inherently evil nature, whereas, for other cultures, this placement allows for a richer, more complex relationship, and Wallen argues that its fluid nature locates fox amongst most primordial chthonic forces of fertility (Wallen, 2006: 60). He suggests that fox’s power has been explored to a greater extent in Asia than anywhere else. Inhabiting the margins introduces uncertainty about the true nature of fox, complicates fox’s position, as Ji Yun observes:
Human beings and physical objects belong to two different categories; fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two. The paths of light and darkness never converge; fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two. Immortals and demons go different ways; fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two (Chan, 1998: 28 quoted in Wallen, 2006: 63).

Fox disrupts our desire for order and logic, challenging our simplistic division of the world into good and evil.