The allotment kept me awake the other night. It was the raspberries. And my greed for space. My original plan had a fruit bed 4m x 1m, the rightmost of the centre beds. There was going to be a row of raspberries with a row of strawberries in front. Only then I wound up with 14 raspberry canes instead of the original 10, so they wouldn’t fit. I tried to persuade myself that it would be OK to plant the canes 45cm (17¾”) apart each way, a double row, despite all the advice I could find saying I needed to allow 90cm (35½”) between rows. I’d put the paths in already, and planted the first two canes. But I couldn’t sleep. The raspberries will be in the ground fruiting for a long time, all being well, they need the best conditions I can give them. They needed more space. Which meant changing the plan. So on Friday, groggy with tiredness, I headed up to the plot and replaced my single 1m wide (~3′) bed with two 60cm (23½”) beds with a path between. This should give them plenty of room, and make it straightforward for me to add in supports if I decide I need to – at present I plan to let them grow au natural. It meant sacrificing the cutting garden bed that I had planned would run the whole length of the plot down the right hand boundary, as I had to leave a path on the right hand side to allow access to the raspberries and make picking easy, but when I got home I was glad I had done it.

Plant Package
Rasberry Canes

Is there anything more exciting to a gardener than coming home to a package labelled ‘Live Plants’? A dozen beautifully healthy canes of ‘Autumn Bliss’, with great root systems, many already with new shoots sprouting from the base. They went in to a bucket of moist compost over night, and the next day, after a good soaking, I took them up to the plot to plant in the freshly marked out beds.

There had been a lot of rain over night, the soil was so sticky that it didn’t fall off the spade but had to be scraped off. Not ideal conditions, but I dug in plenty of well rotted manure and added a sprinkling of bonemeal for each cane. I also watered them in well to settle the roots, despite the sodden soil. This was after I had called my other half, henceforth to be known as TNG (The Non Gardener) to get him to bring up the keys I had left behind. I couldn’t get in to the tool bench, and its hard to plant anything with bare hands…

While I was up there I got talking to another plot holder, T, who, after sharing a half plot with friends has branched out and got his own. Its the plot previously owned by the couple who ran a local nursery, with the immaculately laid out north-south oriented raised beds. He had shortened one of these beds to accommodate a small shed that was apparently on its third home. It turns out that he runs the maintenance team for the whole Berkeley Estate – which he loves, because with 6,000 acres, 18 tenant farms and numerous estate cottages, every day is different.

Berekeley Castle has been lived in by the same family since it was built in the 12th century. It is where Edward II was murdered, and Elizabeth I played bowls there. It was fascinating hearing him talk about working on the estate, how generations of the same families live in the same cottages, and run the same farms. The estate is now run as a charitable trust, although the family still live in the half of the castle not open to the public. Having employed over 300 full time staff including foresters and gardeners in its heyday, the estate now only employs 30, augmented by an army of contractors. It was a timely reminder that I really should go and visit the gardens, they have a terrace with planting originally designed by Gertrude Jekyll. They also have a butterfly house that they claim is home to the world’s largest moth! Which is all rather besides the point, except that it pays to be friendly on an allotment. T has inherited three large rhubarb plants, and although he loves rhubarb, he found the two he had on his last plot too much, and has offered one to me! Which made me glad that a year looking after a camp site cured me of my shyness in talking to strangers. Not only do I get to hear interesting stories, I get free fruit. Hard to beat.

Plot Planning Dilemma

I spent the rest of my time up there pondering the implications of the changed raspberry beds. Having lost the bulk of the long narrow strip I was going to plant with flowers for cutting – and to attract insects – I was left feeling grateful that I hadn’t yet got round to placing my Dahlia order. I’ve not got as much room as I had thought. I was going to plant Jerusalem artichokes in that long strip too, to help act as a wind break (and yes, given their reputation for inducing flatulence, I am aware of the irony!) Where are they to go? More importantly, there is the issue of how to use the front right bed. Originally it was going to have beds aligned with the larger central bed, two 2m x 1m beds with paths in between and the right hand flower strip, everything nearly lined up. Now I was faced with either the paths not lining up, and sticking to two 1m wide beds, or having another, shorter, narrow bed in the front patch. Happily, I had already started stealing more space.

Front Bed Enlargement

When we started digging over the front right bed it became clear that it didn’t line up with the edge of the middle beds. Plus, before I had my middle of the night epiphany about the raspberry beds, I had already started lifting turf at the right hand side where that long strip of cutting garden was going to be. The ground under the turf is nasty, stony, yellowish clay that needs a lot of enrichment, but once we have neatened the bed up I will have turned a nominally 2m deep bed into a 2.5m bed. I quickly decided that I couldn’t bare to have staggered paths, they had to line up with the central beds. Not just for aesthetic reasons, but also because I need to be able to run a barrow up easily, and lots of little doglegs is impractical. So, I will wind up with one 1m x 2.5 m bed, one 0.6m x 1m bed, and one 1.5m x 2.5m bed. This last bed will be partially obscured by the water trough, so I think it is ideal for planting my new and yet to be claimed rhubarb plant and a mini hedge of Jerusalem artichokes. The latter will also help to break up the soil. The narrow bed will become a nectar bar, planted with nectar rich annuals, and the 1m wide bed will start the year planted with First Early potatoes, which will help break up the soil, followed by courgettes – I can grow these on in pots until the potatoes have been harvested. I was always planning to intersperse blocks of veg planting with rows of annuals, and I will still have some space for sunflowers on the left hand side, but I wanted to plant some Dahlias too, and try leaving them in the ground over winter mulched with straw and plastic as advocated by Green Lane Allotments.

Possible Dahlia Bed

I think the currently rather unpromising area next to the bench might be the answer. Once the rest of the remains of the compost left by the previous plot holders has been put to good use, and the couple of raspberries and what I think may be a currant have been shifted to a better home, there will be a 2.5m x 0.9m planting opportunity. I rather like the idea of being able to sit next to some beautiful flowers when I am taking a break from working. I could probably fit 3 or 4 simple flowered types in that will attract more insects, perhaps with some filler annuals crammed in for good measure. Its a thought.

When I next get up to the plot – there is yet more rain forecast – I will see some changes. The plot immediately to the right of me, with beds covered in plastic, has just been given back, but the plot behind mine has apparently undergone a big transformation! FIL was up there yesterday doing some digging and clearing while I cooked a birthday feast for MIL, and says the couple who have taken it on have now rotavated all the planting areas. I’m delighted they are starting work on it, it will be good to have more first-timers to swap experiences with, and I am very curious to see how the couch grass and dandelions respond to the rotavating. Lots of people swear by it as the way to clear the ground, repeat rotavation is supposed to weaken and eventually finish off even these pernicious perennial weeds, and it is certainly less work than our attempts to painstakingly dig it all out by hand. In the mean time I have a rather large number of packets of seeds that say I can sow them in March, and that’s only a week away now, so I am off to panic quietly in a corner somewhere…

Plot Plan Feb 2011


44 thoughts on “In which lack of sleep and talking bear fruit

  1. Hi,

    This morning as I was dozing I dreamt it was sunny outside and that could finally get out in the garden… So disappointing to wake up and discover it is grey, drizzly and nasty yet again.
    I’ve always been someone who talks to random strangers, and it really does pay off sometimes! :) free plants from neighbours and colleagues, of course I give some back too – rhubarb, tomatoes and such.

    I really enjoy watching your allotment develop, more so because I know I could never do it myself!

    1. Hi Liz, sorry you woke up to drizzle. And I don’t for one moment believe you couldn’t handle a new allotment! If I can do it, anyone can, truly, but I’m glad you are enjoying watching the journey. Hope the weather clears up soon.

  2. We planted raspberries last year but the early ones never took. The nursery were very good though and said that the bad weather had caused lots of probems so repleacements should be arriving soon. Must admit we are very cavalier abour planting distances.

    1. Hi Sue, hope this year’s thrive. There are lots of buds at the base of mine, but only time will tell!

  3. By the way thanks for the mention – it’s going to be a real test of our dahlia protection this year – although people who have dug them up are complaining of rotten tubers too.

    1. You’re welcome! Am hoping that you find they all survived, or I’ll have to try storing in the loft.

  4. I’m sick of the rain! My garden is turning into a hilltop bog!
    You’re further on than me though – no plan for the veg, no trays to put them in because of the fire, only a few seeds….but I have got hope! It’ll all come together soon – honest! :)
    Good luck with your allotment this year – the best thing I’ve ever bought is a yard long measuring stick with all the plant distances written on it and the stick marked out in inches. It’s dead easy and foolproof….works for me, need I say more?!

    1. A hilltop bog is quite an achievement! I keep hoping to see that lovely sun icon on the weather forecast, but no luck for the week ahead so far :-( And yes, do be hopeful, its too easy to get anxious and precipitate at this time of year. There is plenty of time – or so I keep telling myself :-;

      Like the sound of your measuring stick…

  5. I was getting out of breath reading your post today, LOL. I fall in the same trap too sometimes thinking and planning, then buying more than will fit. Then digging and enlarging, re-planning…. oh the mental and physical work. Love your raspberries. The farm has them, but not as organized as yours will end up. They are a bit messy, but produce like crazy in the sandy, acidic soil.

    1. Hi Donna! Glad to know I am not alone… I love raspberries, so I really hope these will be happy in their new home. Great to hear about your messy but productive canes, I am suffering from some residual guilt for not obeying the RHS Pruning and Training Guide and putting up posts and wires to tie them too ;-)

  6. How I can I identify with some of that! The soil especially. I still haven’t ventured to finishing my veg plot because it has been so wet. My 2 solitary raspberry canes are still heeled in in a large flower pot, waiting for their new home. They have little buds on them so fingers crossed by £2 at Poundland has been well spent. Its all worth it in the end though, isn’t it? Especially when we can post photos in the Summer of our resplendant and bountiful gardens and allotments.

    1. Hi Ronnie, I really hope I do have some sunny photos of a bountiful plot come summer! This is all so new to me…

  7. I couldn’t wait to continue the story of your allotment…whew…you have been so busy and you can read how your mind is spinning…it is transforming into a wonderful garden…I always order too many seeds and plants and like you this yr will have to find alternative arrangements in pots and such to accomodate them all…the flowers by the bench will be so lovely…

    1. Thanks Donna, the only problem will be in reducing the order – MIL and I had already made a list based on the original plan. Ah well!

  8. This could be me writing this post. lol Our gardens tend to keep us up at night sometimes. So glad you figured out the raspberries! When I have an issue I go and fix it if I can. Thinking long term like you did is best. Awesome on the extra rhubarb you got! What a nice neighbor!

    1. Hi Tina. Its good to know others are as bad as me! I love rhubarb, so I am really chuffed to have been given a mature plant.

  9. Oh I can sympathize with you being up in the middle of the night planning! For a long time the Professor would not sleep unless I was holding him, so I spent many nights in the rocking chair planning out the garden. I always seem to have more energy when I’m daydreaming than when I actually get out in the garden. :) Your allotment seems very well planned out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out for you. I have yet to plan my veg garden and the time is creeping up on me.

    1. Hi Hanni. The big problem I always have with my middle-of-the-night garden planning is that somehow, come daylight, the garden is a fraction of the size it was while I was dreaming! The allotment is easier that way because at least I know how big each planting area is. I’m sure your veg garden will come together beautifully – I long for the time when it is all so natural that I don’t have to plan so frantically!

  10. My plans have been changed so many times that it’s hard to remember what’s what anymore. We’ve got another miserable, wet, grey day today, I’m hoping that the weather improves during the week so that I can get to the allotmnet next weekend. Fingers crossed.

    1. It gets really annoying, doesn’t it, all this grey wet miserable weather and claggy soil. I keep telling myself that this too shall pass! Here’s hoping for a lovely dry, warm and sunny March.

  11. Wow, coming on in leaps and bounds. The plot is looking great, and I like your solution for raspberries and dahlias. We planted raspberries last winter for the first time, and both summer and autumn varieties were lovely (shouldn’t really have let the summer ones fruit in their first year, but…). This year we’re planning dahlias too – hoping we’ll have somewhere to plant them! I’ve been drooling over Sarah Raven’s catalogue… It will be lovely to rest on your bench surrounded by such beauty!

    1. Hi Sara. I’m sure you will find room for some Dahlias! Glad your raspberries were delicious, I opted for just Autumn fruiting to avoid any pruning confusion, though if I had more space I would definitely grow both. My Grandad grew raspberries, they have strong childhood associations, and besides, delicious!

      Sarah Raven does great plant porn, and her dahlia tubers are good quality, but I am going to try buying from the National Dahlia Collection nursery this year, much cheaper and a vast range.

      1. Ooh thank you – a huge range and much more bargainous indeed. I was being rather lazy and letting myself be seduced by the glossy catalogue that I could flick through idly on the sofa… but that website looks great. Hmmm and I could get twice as many tubers for the same price… sense says I should therefore spend less, but it’s tempting to just buy more! :-)

        1. Ah yes, the “I can spend less” challenge. Somehow when you’ve already mentally “allowed” yourself to spend a certain amount, it is very hard to resist the “getting more for your money” argument. Good luck ;-) It is only lack of space holding me back…

  12. I completely understand where you are coming from I have lost so much sleep fretting over what to plant where and how to use the space to the optimum. Then last week there was the whole rabbit issue. I keep telling myself to follow my instincts and not to let others influence or confuse me but its never that easy

    1. Hi Helen, glad to know I am not alone in the sleepless “where am I going to plant that” stakes. Sorry to hear you have a rabbit issue – for us it is a plague of pigeons! And you are so right, we need to follow our own instincts. Others can offer interesting tips and ideas, but ultimately we have to do our own thing. Some dry weather would help!

  13. Janet,so glad it isn’t just me that on occasions cant sleep for thinking of gardening stuff and at times thinking was it ok what I said in my last comment to whoever, would they misinterpret what I said. Daft as a brush me. Garden blogging doesn’t half broaden your horizons, even we are going to be growing some veg this year. Salad stuff, either peas or french beans, carrots, onions and tomatoes in the greenhouse. I think your plot is going to be amazing.

    1. Hi Alistair, it can all get a little much sometimes, can’t it. Delighted to hear you are going to grow some veges. Salad, French Beans and tomatoes would be my top three every time. Great harvest to seed ratio (unlike the 1 to 1 for e.g. carrots), easy, and so much more delicious and varied than shop-bought. Good luck with whatever you choose to have a go with, look forward to seeing the results.

  14. You’ve done very well to stick to prescribed planting distances, I am bottom of the class must do better in that respect!

    1. Hi Damo, I’ll probably play fast and loose with lots of the planting distances, e.g. sowing in blocks instead of rows and therefore closer together, but I lost my bottle with the raspberries, stakes are higher when it isn’t an annual crop!

  15. It made me smile reading that you’ve lost some sleep thinking about how to fit in the extra plants. A trait of a true gardener :D

    1. We’re all nuts, that’s the problem! Though it sounds as if you have you room for all your lovely new acquisitions.

  16. Goodness, I am tired and I didn’t do a thing with the garden today. So much planning so much excitement… so many raspberries. I know what it is to be obsessed with a plan an have it run through my mind at night. You describe the angst perfectly, I am so glad it worked out for you because I was getting worried.

    1. Please don’t be worried! I’m just nuts, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but, it is only an allotment, and I’m sure I would have got some raspberries even with plan A!

  17. Hello Janet, A post which I have prepared at the moment, I mention, if the site owner responds to a comment which has been made on their post, the commentor is not informed. You have very cleverly addressed this issue. Go on, let me in on it, is it a wordpress plugin,widget? do you know the name of it.

    1. Hi Alistair, yes its a wordpress plugin, called ‘replyme’ – great, isn’t it? I just wish commentluv wasn’t currently broken.

    2. Sorry to but in here but in Blogger if the commenter requests a follow-up email if someone responds to a comment then they are sent an email updating them

      1. Hi Sue. Yes, and its a feature I like about blogger, I have the equivalent set up on my blog, if you tick the “notify me of any future comments” box just before you submit your comment you get updated on ALL comments. ReplyMe just emails you when your own comment has been directly replied to.

  18. Oh Janet, you are the most planning person! Your allotment is splendid, and if space issues make you want to change —you can, either this season or next. How many of us have moved a plant at least once? I do think the canes of raspberries would not like to be moved, but give them a permanent home and rearrange accordingly. You space is grand.

    1. Hi Janet, and thank you, I think! I’ve never really thought of myself as a planning person, I think it is the relative unfamiliarity of veg gardening that brings out the planning side. If I think I’ve thought it through fairly well I feel more secure in the choices I then make. When I feel I know what I am doing I tend to get a lot more cavalier! Re moving plants, I do that a lot. Like moving furniture! It gets a little silly when I find I want to move something a mere 3″ though…

  19. Gardener’s insomnia knows no national boundaries, it seems! I’m having similar thoughts in the dark quiet of the night, Will there be enough space? Will I be able to accomplish everything that needs to be complete before the season shifts? Will the weather relent so that I can get backlogged chores completed? But in the end, it’s so worth the bother, the lack of sleep. I’m glad to see you making progress with the allotment!

    1. Hello James, it does seem to be a common disease amongst gardeners. And I agree, it is worth the bother, I love the fizzing brain and the excited plans, even if come morning they make no sense!

  20. An allotment is a bit like a greenhouse Janet ~ there is never enough room. I am sure that there will be more sleepless nights ahead!

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