. . . . . . . preparing for moth balls

Sunday, 29 November 2015


Man on Chesil Beach looks out to sea.
I've nearly gone. There was to be another book review before the sleep-tight round up but I decided if I couldn't say anything nice about it, it would be pointless even to mention. So now I need the wind to calm and the sun to come out so I can trot around with my camera to say a temporary 'Goodbye' to the plants and trees and streets which form the subject matter for this blog.

But I can't let you miss today.

This was here at mid-day. It's not a sea to swim in, to paddle in or to surf in. It's a sea to die in. You go too close at your peril.

This man is not as close as he seems. Chesil Beach goes down in steps so although it looks as though he is standing at the edge of the surf, he isn't. The sea is below him - which may give you an idea of the size of these waves.

There were lots of people. By 'lots' I suppose at any one time there were a dozen. But they were coming and going - and virtually every one of them with a camera. I have not done justice to this sea - but the air was dense with salt and spray. It was reckless. Cameras don't like salt and spray. But I wasn't the only one who couldn't resist it. (Camera menders may be in for a bonanza!)

Incidentally, the black blodge on the waves is a huge mat of seaweed.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


To say you can give merely half-an-hour a day to an allotment is tempting but is it possible? No.

Photo of page 31 from RHS: Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leenderzt.
The Half-Hour Allotment was first published in 2006.
This revised edition was released in October 2015
I'm treading on icy ground here. Lia Leendertz is a gardening journalist and has an allotment. I'm just me and I don't have an allotment. But by the end of the first chapter I was exhausted and (in my imagination) broke. Before any time at all I'd got the idea that setting up an allotment is expensive and time consuming. Right on the second page to the introduction Lia herself suggests 'half-an-hour' might might be re-interpreted to mean 'two hour-and-a-quarter visits over two days'. She also says the idea of half-hour allotmenteering was developed by someone called Will Sibley so I spent a while wondering why he hadn't written the book himself, or in collaboration.

And I'm just about to confuse you. My test for whether I like or value a book is whether I want to keep a book after reviewing it or whether I'd like to donate it to my local horticultural society. I'm keeping this. Why? It's fun. Well written. And engaging. And there aren't many gardening books I can happily read from beginning to end without abandoning them in favour of dipping. But I did this.

Here's the wildly frustrating thing though. By the end of the first chapter I'd chosen a good allotment (some hope!) established a shed, laid a path and built raised beds - some of them about waist high to save my bad back. Lia does suggest people might like to work in pairs to take account of differing ages, strengths and skills. I'd say you'd need a team of people. There would need to be a car and a lot of spare cash. The allotment would have to be on a route travelled every day or be very close to home. As I read through the book I found I might need old pallets (where would I get them?) which I'd need to nail together. (How would I do that?) And that if I don't have access to logs, I could use a piece of corrugated iron (for slow-worms to creep under). I don't know about you but I'd find it easier to buy logs than rummage around for an old piece of corrugated iron. I might like to pin pieces of card to the ground with large stones. (To suppress weeds.) That sounds ok until you start looking for stones large enough. The earth may seem full of them while you're trying to dig but there are rarely many small rocks. And if I'm to protect potatoes as they begin to grow where will I find a stash of cabbage leaves to cover them with? (Especially at that time of year.) (And will they stay put?) And a garden shredder is not something one is likely to have about one's person.

I remember as a student reading that an easy, free and attractive bookcase could be made from some old bricks and couple of planks. Sounds good until you go looking for old bricks and abandoned planks.

Who, I am asking myself, is this book for?

For young professionals with spare cash who like the idea of having an allotment but don't necessarily need it? With friends who'd like to come and help them out in return for a taste of the good life and a glass of wine? This, of course, could be you!

And people prepared blindly to discount 'preparation' time. It's a bit like buying a book called 'Five Minute Recipes' only to discover you will need to spend hours traipsing around in search of unusual ingredients and have a fridge or freezer already stocked with sauces 'made earlier'. 'Five minutes' turns out to mean several days. 

Then I wondered if it might be for people who are thinking of having an allotment next year, even the year after. People who might need to be put off for a bit until they have thought through the kind of challenges they will meet and have worked out how and whether they can overcome them.

I doubt any but those with well established allotments are likely to benefit from the half-hour advice. (Which is pretty thin: don't hang around talking to other people or standing there wondering what to do, have your work planned in advance . . . )

But allotmenteers who have already got their sheds and paths and lawnmowers and compost . . . have already learnt that blackflies like to eat broad bean plants  . . . and who are not challenged by the idea that they might simultaneously rotate the planting of roots and alliums and mix spring onions in with the carrots . . . I doubt these gardeners will need the kind of advice about growing things offered in this book. (Though it's often helpful to have a revision lesson. You go 'Oh, I'd forgotten that! or 'Hmm. Here's another angle.')

Photo of page 147 from RHS: Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leenderzt.
In the end I decided that as well as for people with money to sling at a hobby, it's for re-starters; people who had an allotment in the past but gave up; people who've had time to think about it and would like another go; people who have already experienced problems with their gardening so they know what they are looking for in the way of solutions. It isn't I reckon, for people who are right at the beginning of their growing career - for all that it gives advice on what allotment to choose. (Some hope that - having a choice!)

And the final problem - the pictures. The pictures are alluring. They are of runner beans growing in straight rows. (The text doesn't mention that parallel rows aren't necessarily easy to create or that bamboo poles can be a pain - one end won't go in the ground properly, the other wobbles around on the green string you are trying to tie it to the others with. It takes more than ten minutes to get the hang of it, let along make a strong, neat row.) There are smart fences and brand new trowels. There are perfect apples, greenhouses and polytunnels. A beautiful scarecrow. (How long does it take to make a scarecrow? Ages!) I've found this with a lot of books. It's not an uncommon problem; this disjunction between photos and text. There we are reading about struggling to get things right while being blasted by humiliating perfection. (They are lovely though.)

So if you are an indifferent allotmenteer who would genuinely like to do better . . . would I recommend this book to you? Well yes. Yes, I would. I find it inspiring. If I were in a position to have another go at having an allotment, (I've done it you know) I'd probably be phoning the council right now, asking to have my name put on the list instead of writing this review. (I'll gloss over the idea that brambles can be cut back and rooted out in the blink of a half-hour eye. I'd need a day on them alone if they'd encroached very far.)

The sub-title is 'Timely Tips For The Most Productive Plot Ever' - which is rather hopeful (!) but a clearer indication of what the book's about. And I'd add to that 'With Handy Hints on How to Get on With Your Allotment Neighbours'. (A trickier task than anyone who's not had an allotment might think!)

I'm a sucker for charts and tables. I'd like it if there were charts to show when to do what rather than relying on the reader to make notes as they go through the book.

And it would be amusing (says she meanly!) to have a timetable to show how you can do all this in half hour slots broken up into ten minute pieces.

Now I'll go and see what other reviewers have said. They'll probably all be saying how easy it is to set up and run an allotment on two and a half hours a week - and I'll feel stupid. But I'll risk it though. Here I go. Press 'Publish'!

(The Half-Hour Gardener is published by Frances Lincoln in collaboration with the Royal Horticulture Society. 

Cover picture - RHS: The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz
To order 'RHS: The Half Hour Allotment' at the discounted price of £13:99 including p&p* (RRP £16:99) telephone 01903 828 503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG378. 
*UK only. If ordering from overseas, please add £2:50

* * *
watch this little film for children

(It's sometimes only available in Australia so the link may not work
but try it - you will like if if you get through but the link works at the time of posting.)

Friday, 6 November 2015


I'm Following a Tree!
I'll need to labour this all over the place. I apologise if you get bored. And I hope you don't get irritated before I reach 100 mentions but . . .

 has moved to

The Squirrelbasket where Pat will welcome you with a link box!

Apple Tree on November 1st 2015
You'll know Pat already. She's been Tree Following for a while. Last year it was a Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) This year she's following an Empress Tree. (Pawlownia tomentosa) 

I'm sorry to have to pass Tree Following on but laptop troubles (over and over!) have brought blogging from laborious to the point of impossible. You'll still find me on Twitter  and at my other blog - Message in a Milk Bottle - where I attempt to post a picture a day.

Loose and Leafy hasn't finished though. It will merely be mothballed until I my laptop is sorted. (Which may be a while because laptops are expensive!) And before then, there will be a couple of book reviews and a sort of 'wind up' post. There may be other posts from time to time but I won't be reading other blogs much - pages take too long to load and keep getting jammed.

In the meantime, you might like to sign up for Loose and Leafy to be sent to you directly by email. All you have to do for this is to put your email address in the box at the top of the sidebar. That way you won't miss the occasional posts, nor when it starts up again properly. But as for Tree Following - Over to Pat!
Tree Following
This Tree Following emblem links to the
Tree Following Page
The Squirrelbasket
If there's a Loose and Leafy Tree Following emblem on your blog
you might like to replace it with this version.