December 2019 | Vegetable Garden and Allotment Gardening: No Chemicals Solution

December 2019 | Vegetable Garden and Allotment Gardening: No Chemicals Solution

The Mansion house at Beckenham Place Park now hosts numerous activities
The Mansion house at Beckenham Place Park now hosts numerous activities

Hello again south east London readers in this the horticultural dormant season as our year draws to a close.  My focus this month will be a solution to replacing the use of chemicals in the garden plus a visit to the newly refurbished Beckenham Place Park – the Mansion house pictured above is now host to numerous activities – more about this later.   All gardeners know this is the time of year when the bulk of the work is done – you will have heard me say that before – but this year constant rain has delayed this for weeks. I mentioned in a recent post that it had rained every day in October and by now everyone will have heard about the flooding in other parts of the country. I contacted a friend in the midlands who said that their villages all had dry feet but the surrounding farmers were unable to sow and plant their winter crops because their fields are under water.  We have apparently have had an increase of 98% in our annual rainfall.

I bumped into a gardening contact of mine last month at a social event and she gave me something of a shock when she said ‘Why is it everyone just wants to kill everything in the garden?’   I say shock because, although I may have felt like that for decades, it is the first time I have heard someone else voice this opinion.

I believe this death to all attitude is a hold over from the war when the most important thing was to feed the nation. Chemicals and bug killers were part of this effort. Times, and the nature of the problems we have to tackle, are now very different and it is encouraging to go towards a new year knowing that my contact felt able to come up to me with that opening gambit. What is also great is that she runs a gardening club and so is ideally placed to change the attitudes of others.



Several people have asked what medlars look like so here is a picture of some of my crop spread out to blet – that is, waiting for them to turn soft. I could have left them on the tree to be softened by a few frosts but I didn’t dare risk it. Last year my entire medlar crop was stolen from my allotment plot!  Those in the above picture bletted in about three weeks and now I am about to make medlar jelly.


What can I use in the garden instead of chemical killers?

As I said in my May 2019 post, under the heading Enviromesh,

the way we tackle it At the Allotment is by Protected Cropping.  We also covered this in some depth as I remember when I was studying for RHS exams.  It does mean a wee bit of extra effort but it will repay you a hundredfold.

So what is meant by Protected Cropping and what can we expect to get from adopting it?  The protection is in the form of Polytunnels, cloches, crop covers and cold frames and ultimately a glasshouse.   Polytunnels range from large walk-in affairs to a ground level mini-tunnel to cover one particular crop.

Walk-in Polytunnel
Walk-in Polytunnel

What are the plants protected from? From the weather and the British winter which gives you far earlier crops in the Spring. This is important for half-hardy crops like runner beans that can’t be planted out until frost danger has passed. In the recent past we have been plagued with strong winds – it is worth remembering that these can dessicate a plant just as efficiently as very hot sun – and protection from strong winds is a good plan to have.

The grower who built the pictured polytunnel used it to grow his tomatoes as vines, which of course they are, and a small crop of cucumbers.

Protected cropping also gives some protection from some pests and diseases and, something that has only begun to trouble our allotment site in the last couple of years, birds. Birds can turn your brassicas (cabbage family) to lace leaving nothing to speak of for you to eat.

The protection does not need to be permanent. Many crops like lettuces can be protected in the early parts of their growing lives after being sown or transplanted. I like to use the large plastic bottles used to sell water having cut out the base – very useful cloches with the added bonus of  recycling plastic time and time again – they last about three to five years before becoming too marked to be transparent. If you think your transplants need protection from a possible late frost or are just not quite as strong as you would have liked then think cloches for a couple of weeks.

For those of you who might want to know a bit more before starting out see the link below to Protected Crop Growing: A Guide for Home and Market Gardeners by Michael Gaffney and Leo Finn and produced by Irish Universities. Ireland is as cold and wet as England can be, if not more so, so the gardening advice is really appropriate and takes into account bugbears that are very familiar like low light levels and low temperatures when you are just dying to get started with the spring sowing.

Take a look also at the link below. I can recommend On Your Farm: Capturing Cumbria a Radio 4 programme from November, great for nature enthusiasts and photographers.  Amy Bateman is a farmer and commercial photographer using her world – murkily dark lambing sheds and animal rearing and her farm environment generally as her inspiration. Enjoyed it a lot.

Rosemary.  Really!

“Bunny” Guinness – of GQT (Gardener’s Question Time) fame – announced on 23 November that the latest plant reclassification emerging from DNA research reveals that Rosemary, once thought to be a separate genus, is actually part of the Sage family.  DNA analysis, while reclassifying plants more accurately than ever before, has been something of a trial to growers, labellers and, as I remember well, people studying for RHS exams.  I use Rosemary often as a herb, the Christmas roast potatoes wouldn’t be the same without the flavour of Rosemary.  On the ornamental side I keep a row of trailing Rosemary plants as the perfect solution to an all year round window box – it is an evergreen that flowers very early (like now) and is very undemanding and in a large enough container various bulbs can be added at different times of the year for fresh colour.


Refurbished Beckenham Place Park

Lake for 'wild swimming'
Lake for ‘Wild Swimming’

Beckenham Place Park has been a much-loved park for decades – large enough to get lost in the woodlands and a brilliant green space for London on a scale unusual for most city boroughs.  I had heard rumblings of major change and several months ago I had time to quickly walk through,  I couldn’t help but notice that a lot more people were using it, families in particular.  Before it seemed to be mostly golfers and the odd dog walker.  The golf course, the only public golf course in existence, was no longer and I did wonder regretfully where all the golf users were able to go.  I did wonder, as you do, if the change was all good.  On a rare and beautifully sunny day in late November I decided to check out the park along with many other people enjoying a brief spell of excellent weather.  The atmosphere in the park was a happy one as families, dog walkers and park visitors mingled and chatted together.

Apparently the local authority Lewisham, finding the park was underused and against much protest, decided to close the golf course and to upgrade the park for the use of the wider community.  They would seem to have been successful in this aim.  The £4.9 million project, I believe,  was funded by the National Lottery and City Hall.  Natural play areas for children, walking routes and cycle tracks have been created for people to enjoy.


Intrepid swimmers in November
Intrepid swimmers in November

The outstanding new feature has to be the lake for ‘wild swimming’.  The lake existed in the park’s Georgian past and has now been reclaimed.  I do know people who have tried and loved this ‘wild swimming’ and the lake looks delightful.  You need to book to swim.  Believe it or not I saw two brave swimmers even in late November (both wearing wet suits).






Happily the woodlands I remember, mostly ancient apparently, are all still there as were the formal gardens around the Stable Block which now also sports a cafe and a terrace for eating outside.  Even the squirrel statue is still where he has always been and has been repainted (not sure about the repainting.)  There was nothing to worry about, the new park is great and I really enjoyed my trip.


Reed beds keep the water clean and filtered
Reed beds keep the water clean and filtered


We are lucky to have this park close by in south east London.  To reach it by public transport the 54 bus passes the gates.  Do fit in a trip if you can on the next sunny day.  Read up more details of Beckenham Place Park features at –



2 thoughts on “December 2019 | Vegetable Garden and Allotment Gardening: No Chemicals Solution

  1. After a summer too dry to plant things,an autumn too wet
    for planting.Tulips in particular dislike my heavy clay
    soil when wet,so these will be in pots.A recent press
    report claimed that most Tulips brought from the Amsterdam plant markets come up blind.This has not
    been the case with those my family came home with,
    which were splendid last year and hopefully will do well again.All else on hold now until dryer times.

    1. Good to hear about your garden year, Lois. Echoing what you say about wet conditions you will have heard perhaps farmers generally have been unable to sow and plant at all this autumn. Good luck with the tulips, one of my clients managed to keep them going year after year – but only one! I did get a good crop of beans, onions and leeks.

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