Freshly dug ground

Hello! If you are a reader of my Her Outdoors blog on the Independent website, I hope you enjoy reading this in its new home. If you are new to my blog, then welcome.

To bring you up to speed: I have an allotment in south London where I grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and a few flowers. Plot 35a is just off one of the busiest roads in south London but once I shut the wooden door behind me I imagine I am in the middle of the countryside. The noise of the cars, even at rush hour, seems to stop at the wooden fence, and the only sounds are the birds and, occasionally, from the other side of the hedge, a golfer going for a drive on the seventh hole (sometimes they miss and a ball will come whirring dangerously overhead and land in one of the beds. I collect these mis-fired golf balls as trophies).

Plot 35a last summer – step-over apple trees, the lush growth of potatoes, my daughter’s playhouse and a giant grapevine

This is what my plot looked like last summer. At the moment, in the middle of winter, there is just bare earth, naked trees and recycled plastic bottles. I have to keep the picture of summer in my mind when I am out there in the cold and rain.

The same plot on a frosty day in January

So, winter – we finally got it after all those weird warm temperatures. Yes, it was wonderful, some said, to see hundreds of species of wildflower in bloom on New Year’s Day, completely out of season. It might be cheery to see the gaudy yellow of a daffodil, two months ahead of time, against the achromatic background. The warmer temperatures might have meant you could sow a few early salad leaves (and until a week ago my soil temperature was 10C). But I hate it, this unnatural warmth in December and January. There are flowers on my strawberries, after an autumn and winter outside, but they look forced, artificial. I don’t want to see this incongruous flowering, particularly when the light fades before 5pm. I want the allotment to rest, hibernate, take stock, ease into the coming season under a blanket of freshly laid composted manure, not be yanked into spring and then plunged back into winter and not know which way is up before Shrove Tuesday.

Sickly-looking strawberry flowers in January

There are essential, practical reasons to want winter to be winter: the garlic, that I planted in October, needs prolonged periods of cold temperatures for the bulbs to swell. The spring cabbages need a break from the slugs, which should be killed off by a proper winter. The fruit trees need to be dormant so they can be pruned properly, or new ones to be planted. And then there’s me – I want winter to be played at a slow tempo, because I have seeds to order, then sow indoors. I need to take stock and go slow too. Because before I know it, it will be spring – real spring, with light and green and colour and joy.








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