I do not have a garden at this time, so I was thrilled when a friend’s brother-in-law agreed to let me visit his allotment and even to do a little work in it. Don’t know about that, though, as it a very specialised area. David is a dedicated bonsai artist and it is at his allotment that he brings on the seedlings and cuttings that will eventually be transplanted into beautiful bowls and pots for display in his garden in town. He also has a wonderful orchard of fruit trees – plums, apples, pears, nectarines and figs – espaliered, so that they fit into the limited space available. David’s patch is, without a doubt, the best presented area. Paving slabs provide dry walkways between all the plants, there is a small greenhouse and a garden shed and the whole garden breathes of lush fertility and productivity.
Of course, one allotment does not stand alone and I was privileged to meet several of the other allotment holders, to talk with them and to admire the fabulous crops some of them were producing. Many of the gardens were beautifully kept, with lawn surrounding the beds of vegetables beautifully trimmed and hardly a weed in sight. Others were not so meticulous, while still others were suffering from total neglect. Such a shame, as there are waiting lists for allotments – keen gardeners just waiting for the chance to show what they can do.
Naturally, my interest is in compost and I was keen to see whether the gardeners here were compost-makers. I was pleased to find out that indeed, they were.
David runs a 3-bin compost system which is very successful and which deals easily with all the garden debris he generates. There is also a series of bins which, so he tells me, are mysteriously kept full of horse manure and straw from a local stables. This is free to all the allotment holders and is a wonderful source of composting ingredients. David also has a tank in which he steeps nettle cuttings and comfrey, giving him a good supply of a very useful tea. His three bins are situated against the fence (he is sited on the outside edge of the area) and were built by himself from old decking planks. (All good gardeners are re-cyclers at heart!) He keeps them covered with a miscellany of old carpet, plastic sheeting and tarps held down by bricks.
Bin 1, is the recipient of new materials, bin 2 is compost under production, with only the odd piece of egg-shell and some very hardy cardboard still in evidence and bin 3 is almost ready for use, We sneak a peek under the tarp and a fair amount of scurrying ensues – wood-lice, centipedes, millipedes, ants and not-so-scurrying worms. Probably heaps of other creatures as well. David is looking for slow-worms, which I have never seen. There are masses of what we in NZ call slaters, (here they are wood-lice) and tiny reddish worms wiggling around in the puddles of mud that have collected on the covers. It all looks very busy indeed. The contents of bin 3 look excellent. Compacted, dark, virtually smell-less. A dig with the fingers and a fork loosens it and now it is crumbly and cool. My hand is hardly dirty and what is there just brushes off.
And – a slow-worm, which is, in fact a lizard. Just a small one, but there, none the less. It feels lovely, a bit like a snake – cool and dry. In the next bin we find more and then a real big one, at least by slow-worm standards. It is a very attractive deep creamy yellow with a brown stripe. It sits without moving on my hand and I wonder if it is paralysed with fear. The small ones were far more jumpy, though so maybe it is just older and more sensible.After a lovely morning wandering around all the gardens, meeting new people and admiring all the hard work and well-deserved results, we ended my visit to this awesome allotment with a lovely lunch at the pub on the village green. Thank you David for a super day.