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.