How much land does a man need?

Six feet of it, according to Tolstoy in the story of that title (i.e., enough to bury you). We’re lucky to have several times that on our allotment, but cultivable land is always at a premium. So un(der)used bits become interesting – along hedges, tucked behind sheds. In this case, a space formerly filled with nettles, bindweed, hoarded panes of glass and rotting timber is made over as a carrot bed, benefiting from the southern exposure:

IMG_2070

More land is effectively insurance for When Things Go Wrong – seeds failing to germinate, young plants failing to thrive, routine attacks from pests and weather. Carrots have a shaky record with us, or we with them, so we’ll see how this pans out.

Meanwhile, a shout-out to friends in Boston (Massachusetts), whose community garden shows how confined spaces can grow both vegetables and community:

IMG_2049

Projects like the Chelsea Community Garden are, as ever, a salutary reminder that working the land in common is a form of wealth in itself. ‘Die Stadt ist unser garten,’ as the Germans say.

Light in August

As the season turns, a tale of two allotments – one grand, one homely. The first is the kitchen garden at Packwood House, near Lapworth, where they do things on a lavish scale – with the help of, well, the Help.

As any gardener knows, the main ingredient in successful growing is the work put in – in Marx’s words, mixing your labour with the earth. This makes labour sound like compost – which it is, in a sense: composted time. A lot of compost goes into Packwood.

After touring the gardens, we began a walk from Packwood toward its sister estate, Baddesley Clinton, passing other labourers on the way.

The other allotment of the week past is of course our own. The 2016 season has been alternately slow and accelerated in the Midlands, with a long cold spring followed by brief heatwaves and cool cloudy weeks punctuated by tropical downpours. Comme d’habitude pour l’Angleterre, at least in the age of global warming.

With August comes a change of light. Sweetpeas fading, sunflowers bigging up, verbena bonariensis glowing at the edges. Labour stays in the picture.

Hi(gh) summer

It’s been a while. We’ve missed documenting an eventful 2015, and are now deep into a turbulent 2016. But blog is not dead. So here’s a brief overview of our growing year, from earliest January to mid-July.

IMG_2689

New year’s amaryllis

IMG_2686

From Emily Jacir’s show at the Whitechapel Gallery this winter

IMG_2696

Adorno’s urban allotment, Frankfurt, mid-January

IMG_2769

Camellia on display at Frankfurt Botanical Garden

IMG_2770

That’s its name, yes

IMG_2824

Our new home (a fixer-upper)

IMG_2813

The allotment on 17 April

IMG_1168

First fruits

IMG_2820

27 April

IMG_2831

Bluebell walk, 8 May

IMG_2855

The allotment at Chastleton House (Wolf Hall in the BBC series)

IMG_2860

Zoe communing with the watchful Rollright Stones on her birthday in May

IMG_2869

Allotment border on 9 June

IMG_2898

Hollywood lighting, looming storm system – 24 June

IMG_2885

West Sands St Andrews – a kelp allotment

IMG_2942

The English Garden in Berlin’s Tiergarten – how English is it?

IMG_2976

Encounter on Milburngate Bridge, Durham, mid-July

Kefalonia

A week on this aromatic island off the Ionian coast, where every morning we woke up to this view of Ithaka:

IMG_6028

View from the hills outside Evreti

“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.”

IMG_1783

The recent theory is that our view did not take in Ithaka, Homer’s Ithaka, after all (it’s now supposed to have been the Paliki peninsula on the western side of Kefalonia itself). No worries; we were in no hurry to actually get to Ithaka. Not when there were limestone shingle beaches like this one to explore:

IMG_6242

Or tavernas like this one, in Agia Efimia:

IMG_6330

Grilled sardines, stewed octopus and rabbit for lunch

Or cave lakes like Melissani to circumnavigate: ‘Visitors can tour the lake on a boat and admire the wonderful colours in the water, which constantly change as the sunlight falls on it through the aperture in the roof above.’

IMG_6339

IMG_6388

Roadside beach north of Sami

One thing a picture can’t convey is the island’s soundscape: a ceaseless rasp of cicadas in the noon heat, together with the tinkle of bells from goats grazing on the hillsides. No wonder some of us drowsed off while chilling on the veranda.

IMG_1820

From the town of Assos we climbed to the Venetian castle on the peninsula above (once used as a prison – but with views to die for).

IMG_1838

Kefalonia’s recent history is marked by two traumas: the massacre of 3,000 Italian soldiers of the Aqui Division by invading Germans in 1943 (inspiring a novel and the inevitable Hollywood treatment), and an earthquake a decade later, which leveled most of the island’s Venetian buildings. Today it builds its economy on the export of Med staples: olive oil, wine (Robola is the native grape) and tourism.

IMG_1858

IMG_1862

Khoi pond in Fiskardo

The most intriguing historical angle on the island may be its hosting of an early Christian gnostic sect, the Carpocratians. Who they, you ask? Groupies of Carpocrates, who made Kefalonia his base in the 2nd century CE. Irenaeus wrote disapprovingly that Carpocratians claimed themselves to be above Mosaic law, believing differences of class and property ownership to be unnatural, and also that in order to leave the earthly realm behind one had license to do ‘all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of.’ Early Ionian hippie commies, in other words.

In the end, though, it’s the sea we’ll remember: turquoise and acquamarine, translucent to a depth of over twenty feet, saltier than the Atlantic and warm as bathwater.

IMG_1869

Beach looking north to Lefkada’s mountains

IMG_1879

Return of the blog

It’s been a while. Seeing as how we’re in the late stage of one of those rare, near-perfect summers in the middle of middle England, though, it’s time to re-boot and take stock. First a look back at the interim since September 2013, beginning with a sample from last year’s harvest:

IMG_4357

Boltardy, Crimson King, Golden

IMG_1243

Borlotti beans

An October chestnut gathering expedition to Crackley Wood, with transatlantic help:

IMG_4485Isobel with chestnut

Putting the allotment to bed in November:

Putting allotment to bed

Seasonal cheer in the dark days:

Community hut Xmas tree

Inauguration of the new community hut, an idea of Volutina’s carried to completion with the help of many hands

N & K at Saxon Mill

Sláinte!

The ritual New Year’s hail to the light from a hilltop in Ilmington:

Ilmington shadows

Spring visitors:

IMG_5108

IMG_1341

Late January, Aston Cantlow. Thanks for visiting, Aunt Gretchen!

IMG_1372

Glad too that Erika and John could visit. Herewith the album cover for our new band, Vichy Douche Slab (name inspired by object in the spa museum, Leamington). We will literally rock you.

The allotment in mid-April:

IMG_1388

New fruit trees, apple and pear

IMG_1389

A lichtsome Easter voyage up to Glasgow, the isle of Mull and Iona, to see our friends before the oil wars break out at Gretna Green after this September’s referendum:

IMG_1431

Bird? Plane? Independence?

IMG_1536

Sketching en plein air

IMG_1560

This may be the solution for our shed roof

IMG_1580

Hebrides or the Med?

IMG_1584

Front garden in Iona

IMG_1589

Fragment of the abbey on Iona

IMG_0199

Our column outside the Iona PO

An early May gathering at the new community hut:

IMG_1639

Constructing an insect house with Bonnie’s help

Later in the month we stayed in London courtesy of visiting grandparents, checking out this year’s borders at Kew Gardens:

IMG_1689

In June an al fresco supper of peas, beans and strawberries:

IMG_1725IMG_1742

And harvesting sweet peas in July.

IMG_1765

Spring into summer

IMG_2188

Dressed for a Victorian outing at Blists Hill, May 20th

A few shots documenting our slow progress into full summer – now that it’s arrived, it’s looking like payback for last summer’s washout. Wimbledon finals weekend shows temperatures in the 80s (F) – American-style heat!

IMG_0754

The allotment on June 1st – well behind its usual point this time of year, due to the cold spring

IMG_2381

Pastel shades – tie-dye, nails, foxgloves

IMG_0783

A gift of sweet peas from John Carrier, master grower – June 22nd

IMG_2456

First salad

IMG_2514

White roses out under the apple tree

IMG_2522

Early artichoke – July 6th

IMG_2528

The strawberry tide begins (with spinach and chard)

IMG_2535

July 8th, after a weekend of heat

IMG_2538

Morello cherries on the ripe

IMG_2550

A field labourer picks berries

IMG_2552

Red, white & green – berries, cherries, lettuce and new potatoes