April 2020 | New Season New Life

April 2020 | New Season New Life


Hello again everyone – I wanted a cheering “big picture” this month – always try to get the new blog out on the 1st – so you have the lovely glass-like berries of Viburnum opulus although you won’t really see them until the autumn. Are you getting used to the strange new world we are living in?  No doubt you have found, as I have, that there are difficulties but plusses as well.  Have you been able to get out into the garden?  It took me a while to work up to getting out because temperatures have been so low but I have started clearing and tidying my garden and am feeling so virtuous.  It wasn’t as bad as I had feared because my garden has a structure so however little I do it can be seen straight away – it is mostly overgrown grass that is the problem.  Your own garden is one of the places you can go with impunity – last week-end many of us were in our gardens and working and chatting – but miles away from each other.  Do let me know how you are getting on if you are also under “house arrest”!

At the Allotment

For the best part of this month I have continued limiting outings to essentials only and the allotment hasn’t been visited for a while so there is little to say about it – all very frustrating as the work piles up.  I have had my current plot for more than ten years but I actually got hooked on allotments a long time ago, many years before I started working in horticulture and gardening.

I applied for my first plot back in the early 1980s.  For a short while we lived in a garden-less flat and I hit on this great idea to get my small son outside.  He didn’t like going to the plot at all and didn’t want to go there – he was sport mad and to this day as a grown man he really doesn’t care for gardening.  So my allotment plot experiment lasted about 18 months then I halved my plot with a woman I worked with.  Subsequently we moved away and I gave up the plot completely.  I always really enjoyed it but I remember that at the time I took it up most of the people I worked with thought it was a huge joke to have an allotment plot – they thought it something old men did.  The reason I got hooked on having an allotment plot was due to watching a film about pioneers setting up their first farm in the US.  Watching it triggered a realisation that I really missed access to the outdoors so I decided to try and get me some, only in south east London rather than Wyoming.  There are always long waiting lists for allotments but I don’t remember waiting overly long before a plot was “mine”.

Several years later – around 2000 I think – we had moved back to the same area where I had my original plot and a friend suggested we might apply together to share a plot somewhere.  We did and we eventually got a plot.  It only dawned on me gradually that we were on the same site where I had been before.  After a year or so she moved away.  I am still there.

I have been looking back and remembering my puzzlement at  Danish allotments when I made a trip to Copenhagen in 2017.  A library assistant in my local library, knowing of my interest in overseas allotments, kindly did some research for me and through this I was able to get an allotment guide booklet written by a Copenhagen resident.  Once there I went to the designated area which appeared to be an estate of very small houses with an open square in the middle where older people were sitting around tables enjoying a beer and chatting.  Embarrassingly, everyone in Denmark seemed to speak perfect English so when I asked where the vegetables were grown they understood but looked rather puzzled.

Weeping willow tree, island planting beds and a fountain in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, once all garden now combined with a theme park

Most European allotment sites (community gardens in the US and Canada) seem to have arisen as a response to the growth of city living and in some cases as a way of providing nutritious food for the less well off urbanites.  Recently the Philippines and Malta have also started the practice.  In Denmark it seemed to be more some sort of housing response and nothing to do with specifically growing vegetables as we do.

At the moment as I am only making essential trips out from the house, I wondered what to do about going to the allotment but had heard nothing.  I contacted one of my local councillors who signposted information from National Allotments which goes into some detail about keeping safe on site and was exactly what I needed to know.  Oh the joy of unequivocal information!

I have since heard from my own site management that visiting allotments is allowed.

Corona virus coping

I am still self-isolating, limiting outings to buying food and medicines.

Moody grey and gold sky seen through stark, bare trees
This is a good season to see captivating skies

A photocopied paper arrived through the front door advertising four or five female names and mobile numbers who were volunteering to get and deliver shopping for those self-isolating.  They declined to mention who they were or who they were contacting or why they thought anyone in the house needed it.  Had they identified themselves in a checkable way, say I am Jenny of  such-and-such address it might have been more credible.  I’m afraid there was nothing to distinguish their message from an opportunist scam – and I understand these have been on the increase.

I decided to devote some of my time “confined to barracks” to cooking.  I have been perfecting my own recipe for plant burgers some time before this crisis began and have just prepared a fresh batch.  I tend to do all the mixing preparation on one day – takes a long time to make your own “meat” – leave the mix in the ‘fridge overnight and  cut out and freeze Rosanna’s plant-based burgers the next day.  I am on the third making of this recipe and they are very good and make about 10 burgers so worth the input.

I have always enjoyed messing about in the kitchen.  The shock of going shopping and finding empty supermarket shelves twice in one week made me start to be concerned about running out of food.  I thought it wise to buy what I could when I could while cooking and freezing new recipes would add interest to “the great indoors”.  Will I relish baked bean and meringue when choice gets scarcer?  The fennel and orange salad I was obliged to buy (nothing else on the shelves) last week was delicious, silver lining there! It formed part of the Mother’s Day meal and is now going to be one of my regulars.

The third attempt to buy food that week was an improvement and I bought both some needed vegetables and some basics.  The latest advice is to try and limit a shopping trip to once a week.  I wrote to my MP (Ellie Reeves) about the problem of the lone shopper like myself, who walks to the shops and back to buy carryable amounts and a group, I think, that still encompasses a sizeable proportion of the nation.  I asked her to keep an eye on what was going on in the supermarkets vis-a-vis the empty shelves fearing the big gap between what I was seeing in the shops and the official version on the television and radio of statements of plenty of food for all.  She has been keeping an eye on the situation and I am so pleased to see the empty shelves have become a regular news story and the supermarkets are dealing with it – there has been an unequivocal announcement of regular shopping slot times for older people and a different regime for medical staff.  I could perhaps hope it will be policed in some way.  If the empty shelves are completely down to shoppers buying and hoarding it says something about our nation I would rather not know.  I now hear that much stuff is being sold at ten times the price, is that what the overbuying was about I ask myself?

Red, gold and blue colours of evening sky over Waterloo station
In a previous life I took this sky from Platform 3 at Waterloo station

Thank you to the hard-pressed shop manager at our local mini-Sainsburys – very short-staffed at the time and who was unloading the lorry bringing in the fresh produce to several customers who didn’t know when they would see carrots and cabbage again.

I welcomed two Corona-caused happenings since last month as they kept me more than occupied.  The coordinator of my book club, like so many  people, had to suspend meetings.  It was so good to hear a couple of weeks later his plan to offer to provide “us with a means to exercise our minds and maintain social and personal connections during this time of physical distancing” and keep book club meetings going via email.  I then had hurry to do the write-up of my planned book reviews abandoned when meetings ceased.Sky in light and very dark grey bands before rain

Meetings of my current photography course also had to cease, of course, from 23 March.  We had but one meet to go before end of term and the tutor decided to hold it via video conferencing.  Having never needed to use this I now faced a steep learning curve while I got it into my head.  The tutor, for technical reasons, then had to change systems and I had to learn a second method.  I managed.

Naturally, both of these things happened in the same week so it has been a stressful but stimulating interlude and I have learned a lot thanks to two innovative people and Zoom.

At the back of the house recently I heard chatting outside – two sets of neighbours were having a drink on opposite sides of their fence, standing the regulatory distance apart, drinks in hand, but having a pleasant chat as the evening sun set around them.  Good to see.

Pleased also to see our road hosting a good turnout for the clapping for the NHS on the doorsteps, windows  etc.


Plant of the month

Acanthus mollis

The dark green finely cut leaves of Acanthus mollis fill and awkward corner in my garden well
My Acanthus mollis fills an awkward corner well. I haven’t found it invasive – this plant which I grew from seed took around seven years to reach this size
Acanthus mollis leaves decorating a pillar in Chester Terrace, London
Acanthus mollis leaves decorating a pillar in Chester Terrace, London

Decried by many as invasive – which in some situations no doubt it is but I have never had that problem – Acanthus mollis is one of several
plants I didn’t particularly care for until I had been in horticulture for some years.  It is one of those plants that comes under the heading of  “architectural”  because, carefully placed, it can have massive impact when flowering because of tall spires of purplish flowers and at other times because of magnificent large and finely cut leaves.  The ancient greeks so loved the leaves of this plant that they were used regularly to decorate the tops of columns.

The similarities between real Acanthus leaves and the moulded plaster variety are more noticeable in very young plants
The similarities between real Acanthus leaves and the moulded plaster variety are more recognisable in very young plants

Acanthus mollis is native to the Mediterranean region but copes just fine in the UK.  The other Acanthus I know well is Acanthus spinosus – similar but with prickly leaves.  Both can be used in  difficult places in the garden because the plant will grow in any soil and can cope with sun and partial shade.  I have it in the corner of my garden under tree shade where nothing else would grow.

The architectural plant is a gardener’s friend because it adds height – if all the plants are fairly small a garden will be rather on the dull side plus including a few plants with very large leaves is always a welcome addition visually.  Acanthus mollis flowers in mid spring to late summer – it is a fairly rugged plant so not the plant of  choice for those who like a perfectly manicured look.

Acanthus mollis, a statuesque plant for the right spacious setting
Acanthus mollis – a statuesque plant for the right setting

So good bye for now. We gardeners are a bit hard pressed dealing with our new lives and trying to manage all the work that marks the beginning of the growing season but manage we will. Do leave a comment at the end of the post – would love to hear from you. Rosanna.

Late spring to mid summer flowering Acanthus mollis purple spires
Late spring to mid summer flowering Acanthus mollis’ purple spires

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