Wednesday, 30 January 2019

HAPPY 2019

Squashed berries on broken wet pavement.
11th January 2019
I'm posting a picture of squashed berries, not to be pessimistic but because I suspect you'll find fewer pictures of squashed berries on the internet than you will of whole ones. Being vaguely reflective, it's brilliant how cheerful red berries remain even when they are squashed on a rainy pavement.

I took this photograph on my way home from hospital. I spent ages photographing the tree they fell from and its surrounds but I'll just put this here as a way to say Happy New Year. We may already be a twelfth of the way through 2019 but it's never too late for good wishes!

This the kind of picture I usually reserve for my other blog (Message in a Milk Bottle). There's more in it than at first seems. I think the stalk of the berries may be lying on part of a sycamore wing and there's either a tiny bit of green lichen to the top left of the lower berry or it's the beginning of a new plant.  There's a matchstick and, of course, the shine of rain on the paving stone.

Here in hospital, I find it harder to rejoice in the random. Very little here is random. It's beautifully clean and stunningly well ordered and efficient beyond anything I could have expected or even imagined . . . Yes, in hospital, for although I took this photo on my way home, I was only there for a few days before chemo started again. This time stronger than before. The first lot had zapped most of the Leukaemia but some still lurked in a mutant form. I'm back in exactly the same room. It's very comfortable but the view is of part of the same building, hence finding squashed berries enormously beautiful and exciting. They are not grey!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018


A short entry to let you know I am in hospital with Acute Myloid Leukaemia. I was diagnosed on Thursday 29th November and admitted to hospital the next day.

I began the first cycle of treatment - ten days of chemo-therapy- on Friday 7th December. I'll be in hospital for four or five weeks depending how quickly my body recovers from the onslaught. Then after a time at home, back here for more treatment. It should take about four months altogether.

Thanks to the steep Halifax Hills, the allotment and three flights of steps in my house my starting point is healthy and my heart is physically strong.

During the onslaught of the treatment I have to be kept away from possible infection so I'm in a room of my own (with a shower and a loo to the side). A combination of the NHS and a local charity provide a fridge and a kettle, a TV and free internet in our rooms. Without these - and my laptop - life would be lonely and difficult so I am very grateful.

The doctors are blunt. The next four months are likely to be horrible and the outcome is not certain. Hopefully by the summer I'll be up and running but there are no guarantees.

Sorry there's no picture.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018


Seven spotted ladybird (probably) on radish leaf. Coccinella septempunctata
Seven Spotted Ladybird
I began paying closer attention to the flowering radishes when
I noticed cabbage white butterflies were preferring them to
the adjacent purple sprouting broccoli plants. 
I've had a letter from the committee. A perfectly sensible one asking if I can cope with having so much allotment space when the larger section isn't tidy enough.

It's true. I'm struggling to get all the carpet etc. disposed of, and allowing more wild plants to grow around the place than is conventional (or acceptable) on a public allotment. In part this is because I've paid most attention recently to the half allotment I took over fresh from someone who had put a lot of care and attention into it. I wanted her to know I am looking after it. There's also the challenge of staying in all day for plumbers when they aren't able to give a precise time for their arrival. So watering had taken priority over weeding.

But it's more than that. Through the years I've been paying so much attention to the small things around us I've lost the ability to see 'the bigger picture'. By this I'm talking in purely visual terms. Instead of digging everything over, I've been fretting that I haven't yet taken photographs of the variety of grasses on the site and every day I've left them till 'tomorrow'. And even when 'weeding' on parts of the plot under cultivation, I've been reluctant to pull things out. After all, they got there first, the grasses and wild plants. It was their home before I supplanted them with runner beans.

So . . . admitting to my failure, I set to work to put things on a more conventional keel.

Willow Herb flower (with Marjoram flower on its right)
Willow Herb
In real life the willow herb flower is pinker than in the picture
but the light was dull and the photo came out like this.
(To the right is a marjoram flower. The colour is right for that.)
I stood at the top of the main plot and tried to see it as if through the eyes of others. The first thing I noted was willow herb; not enough for my taste but enough to draw attention to itself because it stands higher than other plants, the flowers are of a bright and startling pink and the white curls of their opening seed pods are truly attractive when activated on individual plants rather than in a clump (where they look messy). My willow herb plants were spread about the plot and looked magnificent: flowers and pods at all their stages. But being the first thing one might notice when taking in the broader scene they had to be the first to go. Straight away the plot looked different; more boring but more tidy too. Stage one!

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
Removing the wilds plants reveals a Common Frog (Rana temproaria).
There's still shelter for it in between and under the plastic crates.
Next . . . the grasses. Their stems of flowers and seeds (depending on the variety) were the tallest unintentional plants once the willow herb had gone. (All but one willow herb plant down near the compost bin - I had to keep one, didn't I?) So I snapped off the stems, pulled out the plants where they'd ease easily from the powdery ground with one tug. And if neither worked I slid the seeds off onto my own soil and snipped the rest off later. I got a bit irritable about this. The wind might well take willow herb seeds to other plots but most of the grasses on mine produce heavy seeds which plop directly to the ground. But they've gone.

Redshank flower
Next, the path between my plot and the untended one beside it. I'd forgotten completely about this path. It's rough and odd and I have two others to walk down so I'd let it be. Out came nearly all the extraneous plants. Another clear difference achieved. (I left a redshank plant. Couldn't take out everything!)

With five sacks of 'weeds' I appealed to a friend to take them to the council dump in his car. Once he'd agreed to that I set about packing carpet into bin liners as an extra. It will take many more car loads to get it all away (many, many, many) and in terms of how the allotment looks, its removal makes little or no difference - but it pleases me more than getting rid of willow herb and dead nettle and redshanks and beautiful grasses.

If I hadn't kept taking time off to look at the 'little' things as I went, I'd probably have achieved much more in the time. But I can't stop doing it. See a fly - grab my camera. Pull a weed out by its roots - photograph the roots.

Redshank plant with roots.
Uprooted Redshank
And in this I see something of an advantage in having an allotment instead of just looking at the vegetation around hedgerows. Hedgerows have to be left as they are. However interested one may be in knowing what's underground, one can't go around pulling up wild flowers to take a peep. (Different location, different terminology.) But if the wild plants on my allotment have to go anyway then wa-hey . . . I can examine their roots. I have a new angle. When I take in the larger scene I now realise there's another of the same size beneath it. It's not a mirror. It's completely different. And I'm allowed to go there!

P.S. I used to go to iSpot a lot to help identify plants and insects and to confirm (or otherwise) things I thought I already knew. Then it slowed down so much it became almost impossible to use. That was a while back so I thought I'd give it another go. It's faster now than it ever was and a pleasure to use. I'm back to recommending it. 

Monday, 6 August 2018


Fading blue hydrangea with greenbottle fly on petal.
As everyone knows (cos I keep saying it) Dorset is not like Halifax. It's also obvious that whenever any of us move we bring part of our old lives and interest with us. Equally obvious is that our interests change in response to our new surroundings. As a blog writer I feel a sort of responsibility to readers that I should meet their expectations; that I should continue broadly in line with the common interest already established. And that's a challenge when one's day to day experiences change.

Close up of greenbottle fly on fading blue hydrangea flower.
I knew such a radical change as moving from the South Coast to post-industrial West Yorkshire would mean a change in scenery and plant life so I left Loose and Leafy in Dorset where it was and started up here - Loose and Leafy in Halifax. But I tried to keep within my original bounds - wild plants, street posts, tree following. And it hasn't been working. I mean, I hope you are still enjoying the posts - but I've been having an uncomfortable conflict of interests. Instead of walking up and down looking for things to look at, I'm purposefully digging and planting and watering and looking at all the land I've not dug over; and while there are lots of streets where urban plants grow, and while rough and rocky hills are part of the view from most parts of town . . . there are no hedgerows unless I walk out of town to find them. Certainly there are no beaches or sea-squirts, jelly fish or waves.

I thought of making the new Loose and Leafy into an almost exclusively street plant blog. But I'd end up blandly waffling if I did just that. My other blog, Message in a Milk Bottle, can take care of them. So, where is my countryside sustenance? On my allotment. I'll acknowledge this and make my allotment the basis for my blog rather than an occasional intruder. I feel I have to say this because an allotment blog is different from a hedgerow blog and is different again from a street plant blog - though these will always get a look in. Do you know Patrick Tillet's blog? I first started reading in 2009 when he was writing about his childhood, then his experiences in the USA army. (Gripping and well written, all of it.) Gradually it has morphed into a specialism in desert petroglyphs with absolutely stunning photographs. It's a must. Do find it. This is a part of blogging; that what we write reflects to some degree 'where we are' in our lives as well as location. And the allotment is writ large in mine so I'm announcing the allotment will forthwith be the home-base for my blog.

Runner bean poles with flowers and sky.
Switching to allotmenting is an upheaval in various ways. Yesterday I weeded round the runner beans, leaving a selection of the wild plants I like behind. Then I went round a second time and took them all out too. It was heart aching and unnatural. But the ground is not highly nutritious and I want to eat the beans and it's bad enough keeping them watered during an extended heat-wave without providing meals and glasses of water for the plants who would happily have lived here had I not intruded into their space. (Though most of them are more like pigeons - they like the kinds of landscapes humans create and follow them about. Ground-fellows.)

Apples ripening on espaliered tree.
None the less, along with being chuffed with most results so far (the Allicante tomatoes which are ripening at speed taste of nothing and I have half a greenhouse of them). I'm probably one of the few  who's pleased I can't keep the wild out. I've been taking pictures of worms and roots and 'weeds' that haven't appeared on the blog because I've been confused about its role. Now I'll let them through. Just at present, I can't stop looking at the plants I've inherited and the things I'm starting afresh. And even more distracting, I'm somewhat bewildered how to lay things out in the larger part because it's fully carpeted. I need to do a survey of professional writers who recommend people put carpet on their allotments either to keep down weeds or to make paths. It doesn't work. The roots just go underneath and pop up on the other side and it's a wonderful hiding place for slugs to lay their eggs.  Do these professionals really scar their bit of land with this disintegrating, indestructible rubbish? My hair rises too when I wonder how many chemicals are leaching from it into the soil. Until I had my allotment I wondered where people are supposed to get their 'useful' old carpets from. Now I wonder how to get rid of them. How many years will it take to take it all to the council dump? How much pollution do I cause when I try to burn it?

Right, so, folks, this is now an allotment blog with extras rather than an 'extras' with an occasional allotment post thrown in. You know that line from Iolanthe when the fairy queen defends her love for the captain of the London fire brigade? 'I know it's weakness but the weakness is so strong!'? That's where I'm at.

Thursday, 19 July 2018


9th July 2018
Bee on one of the ornamental onions.
(Buff tailed bumble bee?)
Other bloggers don't seem to need to do this - pop up every so often to prove they exist. Nor do they have to explain that their laptops and their cameras are forever going off to be mended. But this is me. Laptop back. Camera soon to go for the focus mechanism to be sorted.

Other bloggers don't seem to have been phased by the changes in EU laws about privacy protection which coincided with changes in how people show their IDs when leaving comments either. 

Been coming in to land on Sicilian Garlic. (Ornamental.)
This photograph was taken on 11th June 2018

But I got completely overwhelmed by it all - especially when 'Blogger' decided to test whether we are humans or not by presenting a complicated quiz about which tiny pictures had images of cars in. I didn't ask for it and got very cross when suddenly it was there. It seems to have gone again . . . so I'll stop being cross and worried and post in celebration of my allotment.

Despite losing some early on to what I thought was a badger but which other allotmenteers say would have been a fox, the ornamental garlics have been wonderful. They have covered a long flowering period and are still going strong. Many are now producing brilliant seeds heads after spectacular flowers. But I can't say my proper vegetable crops are an outstanding success. My culinary onions look like ordinary supermarket ones and there are very few of them. The time and effort taken is barely worth the result.. Growing from seed instead of sets would have been better.

Green Magnolia Pea - 2nd June 2018.
After the first (like this) went straggly, I started again by planting directly in the ground.
These later plants are doing much better.
The idea is that they produce masses of tendrils which can be eaten in salads.
The flowers are beautiful.
The peas I started off early didn't thrive. Those I planted in the ground have done better but the soil is poor and keeping up with watering when we have had about two months without rain has been a bit of a challenge. Next year the weather will be different so lessons learned this year won't necessarily apply then but at the moment I'm thinking direct sowing will be the way to go.

My radishes are brilliant but I can't show you because I've not photographed them yet and as I gave today's bundle to a neighbour on my way home I can't photograph them now.

Alicante (?) tomatoes in greenhouse.
19th July 2018
I'm putting the question mark because seed descriptions on the internet
don't compare with what I think I'm growing. I'll have to find the seed packet.
The tomatoes are ok though - and heading towards plenty. I'm growing three varieties. Alicante which I grew from seed (in the photograph) Moneymaker (also from seed and planned for open ground but still in pots) and an unknown kind given me by another allotmenteer. (We don't have a language in common so asking what variety they are didn't work.) They look good and strong and a tomato is a tomato so it doesn't matter and I'm simply grateful to him and am glad for having two greenhouses too. The Allicante should be grown with very few but very long streamers but as I guess that would mean too many would ripen at once, I'm letting them do their own thing - apart from a bit of sideshooting. I'm growing them for food, not to impress. (And am also in a muddle - I thought the packet described small tomatoes but the internet says medium. I'll look out the packet. But whatever kind they are I'll enjoy them.)

The extra half allotment I took on in addition to my first full one is brilliant. Not only did I inherit  a huge strawberry bed and two greenhouses, established flowers came with it too. Maybe someone can tell me what these deep pink flowers are?

Beyond them you can see . . . is it a ragwort 'bush'? I watered it assiduously from early on and when I asked the previous allotment holder what it is she said 'A weed'. I watered it anyway . . . and bees and butterflies love it - and so do I. Here's a Cinnabar moth caterpillar sunning itself. If this plant is a ragwort I suppose I'll need to cut the flowers off before they make seeds. In the meantime - it's sunshine on stems - and makes up for the dandelion season being past.

Here's another bush I don't know what it is. I can't say it's very much to my taste visually but when the flowers first opened the scent was heavenly. Again, it's a pretty-insect-attractor. Here's a butterfly.  Is it a Small Tortoiseshell? (Masses of bees on it too.)

I wouldn't have chosen to grow a hydrangea but since I inherited one - I'm quite pleased with how it's turned out.

29th June 2018

I'll finish with strawberries. They are all eaten now and I'm waiting to collect their runners so I can start a new bed for next year's crop. Oh joy it was to have unlimited strawberries for nearly a month! These were some of the early ones.

A lot of catch-up. Hope it's not overload!