Every year I’m surprised again by how gardens, especially those planted with annuals, can retain – visually, plant-wise – a sense of summer almost right up to Christmas light switch-on time. Six weeks ago I was there (not even doing anything strenuous; a spot of deadheading and curating bunches of flowers) in a t-shirt. Four weeks ago the allotment looked as in the pictures above, the party still very much in full swing. But on my most recent visit, the lights had come up and the place was well and truly frosted; dahlias blackened, courgettes seemingly evaporated and my nasturtiums struck down in their infancy.
British Summertime is over and I’d say the first season on the allotment’s been a qualified success. Most of my major architectural fantasies – constructing a bench-cum-folly with a ‘Greek’ Thomson feel, possibly in salmon; a green roof for the shed and maybe a couple of pilasters and a pediment on the front; transplanting and cloud pruning some box balls I planted as sprigs from Lidl in my parents’ garden years ago – haven’t materialised. In the event just watching plants grow and intermingle in unexpected ways was pleasure enough to push all my grand designs to the backburner. I’ve not eaten as much produce as I might have hoped for; partly because I didn’t prioritise big croppers, partly because my current living arrangements and an intensely frustrating prescribed diet I’m on have hindered my culinary experimentation.
In general though, given how late it felt like I ended up planted everything, the allotment came through for me. The great advantage of not being there all the time was that every return visit was like returning to your garden after a holiday, when you can’t believe how much things have changed. The dahlias, whose corms I’d previously only ever stuck in as afterthoughts in overcrowded borders were a revelation when given a decent amount of space and light. As flowers they somehow have a presence to them that means each flower feels like a tangible achievement, a prize or a present. The sunflowers did well in the end too, although didn’t quite form the solid background screen I'd envisaged. They also grew notably stronger on one side of the plot than the other - I have to confess there’s a large part of the plot where I’m still not sure if there’s a solid layer of concrete a foot or two down or just badly compacted subsoil.
I cheered on the butternut squash’s triffid-like scramble across the plot, along the fence and halfway up the support for my borlotti beans. It certainly produced enough blowsy Georgia O’Keeffe flowers, but a grand total of two squashes. Like a few other warmth-lovers it didn’t seem to be feeling the vibe of the Glasgow summer outdoors. My cucamelon (a melon/cucumber hybrid I was psyched about), purchased at a West End open garden, all but disappeared despite being situated against the west-facing wall which noticeably radiates heat from feet away. This wall is something I plan to exploit much more in the future. I got a couple of raspberries off my eBay bare root canes, again planted late, but they tasted a bit rank if I’m honest; I hope I’d just brushed my teeth too diligently before leaving the house.
I now need to get my hands on some pallets, if I can find any that haven’t been upcycled into coffee tables, and make a proper bin to start composting this year’s growth. For winter, with the option of being able to get stuck in after work off the table, I plan to all but put the allotment to bed. I’ve planted out some broccoli, I’m planning to sow winter greens, still have plenty kale and my Brussels sprouts are starting to look substantial, if pecked by wood pigeons. I should definitely have netted these months back but didn’t for aesthetic reasons, which leads me on to the main thing I need to figure out when planning next year: is my priority still a degree of productivity or should I focus even more on the effect in the ‘garden’ itself?