Jojo Tulloh | Cookery Writer
East London, UK, June 2012
"I love the basket that comes back filled again and again with an infinite variety of crops and flowers. Its pure pleasure cooking with ingredients you have grown yourself." ... more words below photos ...
My garden is in Leyton, East London on the Auckland Road allotments - just past the Olympic site. It is on a slope facing South Westish. It’s a fairly exposed to wind with a busy slip road on one side of the allotments and tall trees on the other, beyond which is a smelly builders dump processing rubbish from skips. When the wind is in the right direction you can also smell some sewage works not far off. The total area is 5 rods, 150 square metres (classic allotment size). Soil is rich alluvial soil - an advantage of being in the Lea Valley, the river Lea is about 1/2 a mile a way.
I have had my allotment for 12 years and probably spend about 2 hours a week in it - sometimes a bit more, often less. I don’t spend as much time as I would like as it’s a 15 minute bike ride from my house.
I started out by going to the monthly Royal Horticultural Society shows in St Vincent Square, a fantastic way to learn about gardening. I am really sad they have been cut right back now. Just looking at all the plants in season grouped together beautifully taught me so much more than any book ever could. I spent a weekend volunteering at Great Dixter (Christoper Lloyd’s garden) which was a revelation in terms of what a garden can be. My friend Frank Ronan has a lovely garden and is incredibly knowledgeable. He manages to share his expertise without intimidating. He has been my main source of gardening inspiration over the years and originally put the idea of getting an allotment into my head.
I dug the beds and paths (the original raised beds have long since rotted) and my husband made the shed. My sister painted birds across the shed door. I garden on my own and sometimes with my youngest daughter (age 4). No one else will come with me even if when I beg. But actually the allotment is my place of escape so I really don’t mind going on my own in fact I prefer it.
Things that grow well are artichokes, redcurrants, blackcurrants, salad of all kinds, chicory, potatoes, sorrel. Its mainly stuff that can stand a bit of neglect. Rosemary, oregano and marjoram thrive as do the apples alongside it. Bindweed, crouchweed and hogweed also thrive despite my best efforts. Garlic and onions do great, beets are ok (never that big). Courgettes are usually good but this horrible wet summer means everything is getting eaten by snails. Borlotti beans do well. Poppies and sunflowers self seed madly everywhere. Pumpkins are tasty but never grow huge.
What doesn’t do well are peas, its just not possible to water them enough. My broad beans always look great and then suffer horribly from black fly.
I have bees in one hive at my house.
Bindweed is number one pest. I just have to keep on yanking it up – this is hard when, along with crouch, it invades perennial plants making it hard to pull up. Snails come a close second (I hurl them over the fence into a ditch full of water).
I love late spring as the ground starts to warm up, the soil is dark and wet, everything is budding and unfurling. Winter is finally over. There is a feeling of great promise and expectation. I get outside and get my potatoes under ground and life feels good again.
Very occasionally I have been to the allotment early on a summer morning at around 6 am before the traffic starts roaring. Its still, the light is diffuse and rather magical especially when the poppies are out.
My favourite tool is a kind of mattock, my friend Frank brought the head of the tool in Istanbul and made the shaft out of a piece of yew hedge he cut down when gardening at Great Dixter. It’s incredibly efficient but its also a hand crafted tool made by a dear friend.
My garden gives me sanity. I really don’t know how I survived before I had a garden. It’s the chance to be outside, to lose yourself in practical tasks and to just be in a way I don’t find anywhere else. I love the exhaustion that comes after hard physical work, the loss of self that comes with being absorbed by digging or scything. I love knowing that each year is a cycle, that I can fail this year and next year the garden offers hope that things will look different, grow better. It feels like the best kind of meditation.
The things I love most about my garden are solitude, unexpected beauty (irises that burst into flower when your back is turned), taking a bag full of wet muddy vegetables home, washing them and watching them transform into a tableau of beauty (and deliciousness).
“Try and enjoy gardening without worrying too much. It doesn’t have to look perfect to be productive.”
My allotment is really a place to get away from everything. I go there to work and rather resent time wasted chatting, which is probably not very friendly of me but my time is limited and l like to get on with it.
I am fairly philosophical about pests and the damage they wreak now, I usually get enough produce to take something home. I do feel quite cross when loving raised plants getting eaten down to stalks but not cross enough to use slug pellets.
What is your number one gardening tip?
Work with nature not against it.