Allotmenting in winter is the very epitome of playing the long game. The termperature and the short days have sent things underground. Plants that were vibrant during the rest of the year are now dormant, hibernating as solidly as any dormouse. Leaves that created patterns on the ground and provided much needed shade during the summer are now rotting in a leaf mould bin. The architecture of trees is revealed, the shades and shapes of the trunks.
What was softened and hidden is now hard and revealed. Including your own failings.
It takes bravery to garden a space at this time of year. A trusting that it will all come good and be green, life-filled and lively once more. Bravery in sowing precious seed, trust that the seed knows it's thing better than you do and will come up right on cue.
Bravery in stepping back, leaving it to its own devices. Trust that it will all come good in the end.
This week, my bravery and trust wavered. Perfection stalks social media, even in the allotment community. Close ups of adorable sheds, seed heads and perfectly raked raised beds. Rows of gleaming, newly-cleaned tools, all hanging in neat rows. Bulbs have been planted and lovingly recorded. Some are even showing off their sweet pea seedlings. And I'm as guilty as the rest! Focus in tight, crop out those inconvenient bits.
But still, I'm scrolling through, feeling the panic rise because Mine. Does Not. Look. Like. Theirs.
So, let's have a little honesty about allotmenting at this time of year. When the mud clags your boots and sudden hail showers sends you into retreat. When the wind is so cold, even thick gardening gloves can't keep your fingers warm, and the sky looks malevolent.
When you arrive one morning and find that the weather has whipped the weed suppressing material off the beds, the brassica nets are flapping and the damned slugs have eaten eveything in there anyway.
When the pile of manure seems bigger than your house and the fruit cage has fallen apart overnight. When even the perpetual spinach has wilted under a sudden frost and your good secateurs break. When the bamboo canes spill out and poke you in the eye and the only green is the grass and the onion sets.
When the pile of deadwood at the bottom of the plot no longer looks like an enchanting wildlife haven, but a soggy, dank mess of a yup of stuff.
When you are digging out bindweed roots longer than your arms and you slip over, dropping your flask of coffee and it is the last straw and you sit on the wet ground and consider crying at the sheer volume of stuff there is to do.
That is allotmenting in winter. This is, sigh, my allotment in winter.
Ye gods, it's a slippery, muddy, disheartening mess. I'm trying not to be embarrassed by it and my untidy ways.
But. Take heart! Yes, the membrane is ugly but there are insects and slow worms hibernating underneath it. Birds are hopping amongst the dead wood yup and picking out insects, berries and grubs for their dinners. Bamboo canes can be retamed, fruit cages rebuilt and secateurs replaced. The decimated brassicas will make excellent compost.
Now is the time to make plans. To be up there with pencil and paper, measuring tape and ideas.
There will be a cut flower bed, the bulbs will shock with a sudden appearance and the wildflowers make a reappearance. I plan on mixing up the planting this year, so there are no more regimented rows of onions/peas/courgettes/etc, but a smorgasboard of edible things, intersperced with ornamentals. The deadwood yup will be transformed into a deadwood "hedge" that provides some privacy from the towpath. An additional bed will be dug in and the first of the fruit trees planted.
I will even make a start on conquering the next quarter of the plot. Digging out the grass that's currently wilting under cardboard and membrane. Then I'll mark out the asparagus bed (the one thing that can't be mixed-planted) and set about making that productive.
Plans plans. This is the waiting time. The being brave and keeping trust time.