Jenny Mollison on gardens: Allotment tales

SPRING is really with us. The allotments are alive again with plotholders making final preparations for the growing season.

My current priorities remind me of my mother’s annual spring clean, usually after the chimney had been swept. Furniture was shoved around, pictures taken off the walls and every corner was thoroughly dusted. Not being as houseproud as my mother, this annual ritual passes me by. But I have no hesitation in recommending the gardening equivalent of spring cleaning before rows of seeds burst into life and I struggle to keep up with everything.

First port of call is the back of my plot under the trees, which is becoming an eyesore. Bits of wire, broken canes and cracked flower pots need throwing out. Then there is a stockpile of abandoned odds and ends which I thought were going to be useful one day. They need to go too. Looking at the clutter, it’s no wonder that some people are a bit apprehensive about the appearance of a new allotment site near them.

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The allotment equivalent of my mother’s dusting and Hoovering involves getting down on hands and knees to tease out emerging weeds between the raspberry canes, under the fruit bushes and in the asparagus bed.

We had an early spell of dry weather in the east of Scotland and growing conditions are good. There are no labour-saving gadgets that do this job as well as fingers and a hand-fork, but I do need a good dollop of handcream afterwards.

It may sound tedious, but the reality is different. There is the satisfaction which comes from filling a bucket of chickweed and groundsel before they have time to flower and seed. And I console myself with the knowledge that if weeds are thriving, the soil must be in good heart for future crops.

In the trees behind the plot I’m entertained by pigeons, crows and grey squirrels having noisy territorial arguments.

At ground level, there are reminders that an allotment is home to many different kinds of insects, some of which are gardeners’ friends. Most obvious are ladybirds, which cluster together for hibernation and emerge when the weather warms up. Later on they will help keep any aphid infestations under control. When I look up I can see peacock butterflies and bumblebees. Afterwards, when I sit down for coffee with Jane by her pond, we admire some tadpoles.