Mother and daughter, Jenny and Hattie both have plots on Craven Vale – Jenny for 11 years and Hattie for six. They also collaborate on a third plot, which they were able to take on four years ago. All three plots have needed intensive work, including clearing brambles, removing glass, getting rid of rubbish, building raised beds and preparing the ground.
As Jenny says: “When I took on my first plot in 2010 the council had just created new half plots, so I was lucky to have a blank canvas, though on a rather bleak hillside! We gradually developed the plot and now there are only a few small areas that I still need to work on.”
Working the ground was certainly not easy, what with the never ending amount of stones that needed sieving out and the bothersome perennial weeds, such as ground elder and bramble that have been difficult to eradicate. Despite this, the rewards have made all the hard work worthwhile:
“We both love being outside, having the space to enjoy and growing our own food and flowers. There is always something to do, It’s really interesting to try different things, get inspiration from other people and also to pass on tips to others. Our plot neighbours are all really friendly and we very much enjoy the social aspects of having an allotment –being able to chat together, share ideas, as well as plants with each other.”
Another thing they’ve enjoyed doing is making their plots wildlife-friendly, by planting hedges and insect-attracting flowers, creating new animal habitats such as ponds, wood piles and ‘insect hotels’, as well as deliberately leaving weeds in their grass areas to increase biodiversity. The pond, in particular has been a real success, attracting frogs (though sadly no frog spawn yet), water boatmen and dragonflies. Even birds have been seen dipping their beaks in it for refreshment, while foxes have also been caught on wildlife cam taking a sneaky drink!
But of course, it wouldn’t be an allotment without fruit and vegetables. Both Jenny and Hattie grow an amazing selection of soft fruit, including strawberries, raspberries, jostaberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, wine berries, worcesterberries and loganberries. They also have a number of fruit trees (figs, apples, pear, quince, plums, pluot and cherries) and grow lots of vegetables. As well as the usual courgettes, squashes, beans, kale, peas, etc. Hattie has had great success with the South American root vegetable Oca, which she grows from tubers saved from the previous year. Both also like trying out different tomato varieties, both in the greenhouse and outside, although their firm favourite varieties are Gardener’s Ecstacy and Marmande.
Not everything is a success though, as Jenny explains:
“Peas are usually a disappointment, hopefully this year will be different! I think they need to be netted from the start to keep off the birds. Hattie doesn’t seem to have much luck with garlic and onions and for some reason, I never seem to be successful with brassicas!”
As now experienced allotmenteers, Jenny and Hattie have some great advice for anyone new to their plots:
“Before you start doing anything, make a plan. You may change your mind as you go along but it helps to have an idea! Also, do a little bit at a time, in one area, whether it’s clearing, planting or sowing, before moving on to the next part of your plot. And, very importantly cover over any bare ground, both to stop soil erosion and weeds growing – we use large cardboard sheets weighed down with bricks which works really well and Hattie uses biodegradable sheets to cover weeded areas prior to planting. One other tip to stop soil erosion is to leave the weeds to grow on beds you will not be planting up for a while. And of course, don’t forget to mulch! – plenty of compost and manure can do wonders!”
Thanks to Hattie and Jenny for answering our questions and sharing information about their plot.
If you’re a plotholder on Craven Vale or Whitehawk Hill Allotments and would be happy to share your experience of gardening, then get in touch!