Some 3 1/2 years ago, I took the boys to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology in the northern reaches of Mid Wales. I had wanted to go for a while, and I have wanted to return ever since – what a fantastic day out.
Built on the site of an old slate quarry, the C.A.T. seeks to put a positive solutions-based approach to reducing our impact on our wonderful planet earth. There are lots of interactive displays and zones to help bring to life issues of sustainability through education and fun. Not only did I find it engaging, the boys did too, and that’s a really important thing in the quest for sustainable living.
I suppose what I remember the most is the organic gardens. Now that I have time to design and implement some changes at the allotment, I looked back through our holiday pictures for inspiration. This photo was the key to my planting plans for 2014.
Co-planting flowers and vegetables as companions will be the main theme in our allotment beds this year, particularly after the Phacelia / Broad bean success last year. And I managed to track down a trusted supplier of edible Amaranth seeds (and Gardener’s World magazine will be shipped with a packet of ladybird poppy seed in next month’s March edition). More about the Real Seed Catalogue tomorrow (also in Wales!) but for now, some lovely pictures from an amazing day out.
The aesthetic of growing plants in a multitude of containers and situations might not be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. And it’s been great to see it incorporated in the ‘Veg Street’ community vegetable growing project in a North London borough started by Naomi Schillinger and others. See the book here.
A friend spotted the offer from the Soil Association for a free packet of phacelia seeds this spring. I duly sent off for some, and gave them to the boys for growing on their bed at the allotment.
They have been carefully tending to them, and keeping the weeds (mostly) in check. They were absolutely delighted when the flower heads started bulging.
We have never grown this plant before, and I’ve been quite taken with their fractal aesthetic. As well as being able to enjoy a splash of lilac in the boys’ bed and with the beans, the bees have been loving them too :) And that’s what it’s all about really.
When we had the raised bed put in to our small back garden, the year after we moved to our house, I was too impatient to stock the garden to carefully designed plans. This would have taken 2-3 years in terms of cost. Instead I inherited a lot of clump forming perennials from my Mum and Grandma’s gardens. One of these is the rather handsome Lords and Ladies (or Arum Maculatum). I knew that they are poisonous, but I was not designing a child-friendly garden at the time.
As time went on, I loved the glossy, variegated display that the leaves brought alongside the bare Lilac tree trunk in early spring and after a couple of years we saw the flowers and berry spikes too. By this time, we had little helpers in the garden, but our boys have both been very good at listening to important advice, such as leaving berries for birds, and we didn’t feel it necessary to dig up the more poisonous plants from the garden. That was, until I happened to catch a neighbour’s child about to pop a berry in his mouth from the Lords & Ladies I’d divided and replanted in with the potted Acer japonicum. I went out with the trowel there and then.
It took about 3 months for the Arum to grow back, like dandelions with renewed growth and vigour. Now seemingly pernicious, I eventually got around to googling why the Acer was not growing. We don’t get much sun in the back, so I realise that it is never going to flourish. I also read that Acer’s don’t do well when sharing root-space with other plants.
The white strands are the Arum roots, tangled with the darker Acer roots
I finally got around to relieving the Acer of it’s companion last weekend, and I was surprised at the vigour of the rhizomes, they were dense and had grown into every crevice of the Acer’s roots. I wanted to be sure to remove every root piece, so I emptied the entire pot and picked all strands from the Acer, and gave it a ‘hair wash’ by running it under flowing water, just to be sure. It’s back in new organic compost now, I hope I have not caused undue damage. To complete a splash of spring colour, I have added narcissus bulbs and more shallow-rooted primula to keep cats out (I found some of their nasties in the old soil too).