Dahlias in small spaces and how Sarah Raven is becoming the third person in our marriage

If you believe what you read, though several people at the moment urge you not to, now is the time to pot up your dahlia tubers.

This morning, six tubers arrived from Sarah Raven’s  online shop (three each of Karma Choc and Cafe au Lait).  I then read Sarah Raven’s section on Dahlias in The Bold and Brilliant Garden at the library (never forget that libraries gave us power), watched Sarah Raven’s video on potting tubers while actually potting the tubers up in the bathtub.  Finally, I watered the tubers using an old tonic water bottle and a bottle top waterer purchased last year (the bottle top not the tonic water) from . . . you guessed it . . . Sarah Raven’s online shop.    Therefore, It is hard to argue with C. that Sarah is not becoming the third person in our marriage.

However, other than the advice I gathered from Sarah, in her many forms, what I takeaway from it is how a passion for growing plants and / or vegetables engenders a passion for not only trying to do things right but also a passion for improvisation and making things work whatever the circumstances.  Heath Robinson contraptions which would never appear in a RHS publication become perfectly reasonable approaches to problems faced in the mind of an intrepid gardener.  A potting bench is replaced by the bathtub, a long flower bench in a polytunnel is replaced by a plank of wood across two Ikea chairs in front of the window.  Gardening has such a power that it makes you get round problems and not give up when the ideal scenario is not in front of you.

The bottle top waterer is a way that suppliers are helping the space deprived modern gardener.  The bottle top waterer is becoming an indispensable piece of kit for me as more indoor space is taken up by assorted pots, trays and propagators.  If I keep the watering can indoors it is only another thing to trip over.  The old plastic bottle with waterer top has become such a go to that if I went to a garden centre and were shown to the watering cans I’d be surprised not to see a range of old plastic bottles taken out of the recycling bin.

Gardening has the power to change not only your mind but how you approach the everyday.  I hope Sarah agrees.




The Latest Farncombe Allotment Recruitment Poster


Farncombe Allotment Recruitment Poster
Farncombe Allotment Recruitment Poster

Jobs for the weekend;

  1. Get the new  batch of allotment recruitment posters, designed by my very talented cousin Daniel, on noticeboards in Farncombe and Godalming this weekend.
  2. Finish the spring cleaning by washing the mini-greenhouse
  3. Start sewing the seeds I should of done in February
  4. Pot up the dahlia tubers in a large container with multi-purpose compost.


Down and dirty

Maybe a few too many – Preparing to clean and sterilise seed pots for gardening

According to the Met Office the 1st of March in the UK is the first day of the meteorological spring.  Therefore it seems logical to have a spring clean.  In preparation of a busy weekend sowing seeds I decided to wash the small growing on pots (I use these growing on trays – I forget the brand name but they are regularly available – as it suits my style and for some reason find it easy to plan successional sowing) without trying to make too much of a mess.


  1. Filled the bath with warm water and a weak solution of detergent
  2. Brushed off any persistent dirt off the pots with a brush I had found under the sink
  3. Let the pots soak in the bath for 30 minutes or one episode of Community on Netflix
  4. Cleaned each individual pot
  5. Drained the bath of the detergent water and then sprayed the pots with shower water to get any residual detergent off
  6. Let the pots dry off
  7. Watched a few more episodes of Community and then remembered I’d better clean up the mess I had made before C. got home

Other suggestions

How To Clean and Sterilise Gardening Pots (Uses a 1:10 bleach to warm water mix)

Cleaning and Sterilising Garden Pots (Uses organic soap and vinegar)


Experiment 17:1-A carrot bed in a bathtub (Stage 1)

Stage 1 of Carrot Bed in a bathtub
Stage 1 of Carrot Bed in a bathtub (Photo by Claudia) . . . a bit rough and ready.An ugly ducking waiting to become an ugly swan

Stage 1 – Putting it together

I have always been a bit envious of the other plot owners who have bathtubs on their allotment who seem to grow absolutely everything in them.  Last year I feel if we had got a bathtub last year it would of just gathered rainwater.  This year I feel we are a bit more confident and so when a free bathtub came available on a neighbouring plot we jumped at the chance.  This is Stage 1 in our attempt to make sense of our new addition to our plot.

Things I thought were a good idea:

  1. Removed the drain  of the bathtub and drilled holes in the bottom of the bath to improve drainage.
  2. Secured a lining of fleece across the drain to ensure not everything falls out or blocks the new drainage holes.
  3. A layer of gravel and polystyrene chips along the bottom of the bath approx. 2 inches deep to improve drainage (also cuts down on the amount of soil / organic matter required to fill the bathtub).
  4. A layer of fleece on top of the gravel and chips so the soil / organic matter does not mix with the gravel et al.  This is often done in planting bulbs in containers so why not here?  What could go wrong?
  5. Raised the end without the plug hole so water ‘should’ drain towards the plug hole.

Things that might be a good idea:

  1. Angled the bathtub south-east for the light conditions and in theory with the raised aspect possibly more light for the whole bed.
  2. Raised the bathtub off the ground to increase a gap for drainage and reduce the chances of carrot fly attack (to exclude the low flying flies).
  3. Filled the bathtub with the sandy soil the foxes had kindly excavated in making their network of dens underneath my plot.

Things that are probably not a good idea (aka my attempt to defy physics):

  1. Rested the bathtub on an old dilapidated pallet.  I appreciate physics will win here.
  2. The angle of the bathtub with the raised end and only braced by a stick – barely an equal or an opposite force. Physics will be 2 for 2 as one day I will find the bathtub slid into the nearest bed like an ocean liner leaving its dry docks.

Oh well, I am sure we will work it out . . .

Jobs for the future

  1. Add support to the bathtub so there is no horrible surprises.
  2. A bit of landscaping to ‘prettify’ the scene

A little bit extra from people who actually know what they are doing:

RHS – How to Grow Carrots

BBC Gardening Guides – How to Grow Carrots

Carrot Fly

Vegetables and Bathtubs (Video)




Contain my excitement

Iris 'J.S. Dijt' (Reticulata)
Iris ‘J.S. Dijt’ (Reticulata)

Adventures and misadventures in the allotment.  The adventure – trying spring plant bulbs for the first time in containers for early colour and learning something new.   The misadventure – forgetting to label the containers.  Therefore, like a batch of Kinder Eggs there is a surprise in everyone.  However, instead of unravelling a potential choking hazard something of real beauty emerges.

Every morning this month I have rushed to see what, if anything, is coming forth and in some cases at last putting a name to a flower or container.  Today , a wonderful surprise, the first flowering of the Iris ‘J.S. Dijit’ while the Crocus ‘Prins Claus’ battle to survive the weather.

Tomorrow is another day and another surprise.

Recommended Reference for the beginner

Christine Walkden’s No-Nonsense Container Gardening by (you guessed it) Christine Walkden

Crocus 'Prins Claus)
Crocus ‘Prins Claus’



Sharing your allotment & National Nest Box Week


We already share our allotment with a family of foxes, a very bold cat, a large robin red breast and an army of slugs.  For me I have always thought of the allotment to be a shared space with wildlife not without.

This week is the National Nest Box Week in the UK (14-21 February) which is enough of an excuse for me to put up a bird box in our allotment.  Ever since we have had an allotment I have wanted to support bird life and add feeders, pockets, boxes etc.  But isn’t that counter intuitive?  Isn’t there a reason why farmers put up scarecrows, why allotment holders arrange CDs around their plots.  Aren’t birds more foe than friend.

Oh well, I did it anyway.  A small bird box at the far end of the allotment, an RSPB feeder in the far corner and a few roosting pockets 9purchased from Baileys) where possible.

Lets see what happens now and if in a few months time if I will be building a scarecrow.

Advice about positioning your next box (From BTO – British Trust for Ornithology)

  • Not too close to another nest box – nest boxes of the same type should not be sited too close together as this may promote aggressive behaviour between neighbours.
  • Shelter your box from the weather – the front of the nest box should be angled vertically or slightly downwards to prevent rain from entering the nest box. Make sure it is sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight.
  • Height from the ground should be 3 metres – small-hole boxes are best placed 1-3m above ground on tree trunks, but avoid sites where foliage obscures the entrance hole. If there are no trees in your garden, the next best option is to place your box on the side of a shed or wall.
  • Open-fronted nest boxes should be hidden from view – attach your box to a wall or fence that has shrubs and creepers growing against it.Make sure cats cannot get into the box – ensure that it is not easily accessible to predators (cats and squirrels).
  • Consider a metal plate around hole to deter squirrels – this preventive measure that can be used to deter squirrels from gaining access. These plates are available commercially and can be purchased from any good garden centre or bird care company at very little cost.
  • Keep nest box away from bird feeders – as high levels of activity of visiting birds could disturb nesting pairs.
  • Use galvanized or stainless steel screws or nails that will not rust. If fixing boxes to trees, galvanised wire can be used to tie the box to the trunk or hang it from a branch. Make sure to regularly inspect these fittings to ensure the box remains securely attached.
  • Traditionally, nest boxes for small birds are put up in the spring – pairs begin to prospect in the latter half of February, so a box put up at the end of the winter stands a good chance of attracting nesting birds. However, it is never too early or late to put up a nest box, as some birds will use them to roost in during the winter months.

Advice for positioning a roosting pocket (From RSPB Online Shop)

  • Roosting pockets are best in a sheltered place, preferably facing south or east, out of prevailing wind that could drive rain into them. They should be fixed to a firm surface like a post or a tree trunk (using the wire clip provided), not swinging free in the wind. Choose to leave either the large entrance hole or small entrance hole facing out, as that will allow smaller or larger birds inside. Don’t leave it with both holes open, as this could allow a through draft.
Roosting Pocket at Allotment
Roosting Pocket at Allotment





National Day of . . . Cabbage


Today is the day of the cabbage.  What that means in this social media world is just a hashtag #NationalCabbageDay.  There is very little evidence of any other activity.

The cabbage however deserves more than a quickly forgotten or ignored marker in the internet cloud.  Last year, completely unexpectedly, the Greyhound Cabbage was a prized jewel in our allotment.  Even though we were on constant watch for Cabbage Whitefly or Cabbage Root Fly we were able to harvest a few heads and produce some fantastic meals.

Encouraged by last year’s success we are trying Minicole (Autumn), Savoy (Winter) and Red Jewel (Summer / Autumn).  We will see how we go – we may buy more to ensure a year round supply but lets not get ahead of ourselves.  Therefore, the battle with the various flies will be hard fought but if last year is anything to go by the reward will be great.

Therefore cabbages deserve much more than an empty gesture from some marketing department and you should consider them for your plot all year round.

How To Grow

RHS advice on Cabbages

BBC Gardening Advice – Cabbages and Brassicas

Gardeners World – Summer Cabbages (Video)

Quickcrop Advice on Cabbages (Video)

Essential Kit

Brassica Collars


The Guardian’s 10 best Cabbage recipes

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Cabbage Recipes

BBC Food – Cabbages

Abel & Cole Cabbage Recipes