In praise of stillness

Had a go sitting in the middle of your allotment (garden, park, countryside...) to just listen and see? Try it. Not only therapeutic, it will surprise you.

Life is just too too busy. Rushing to work. Rushing at work. Rushing home. No longer work? Those constant demands on time still mean there's little time to relax.

And by relax, I mean relax. No mobile 'phone. No thinking about what you've got to do later or what happened yesterday. Find a comfortable spot. Just fill your mind with what you see and hear. Concentrate on the area immediately around you.

It's hard to do, especially if there's the sound of traffic in the background. But with concentration, what is happening just a few feet away will take precedence.

You'll notice things that have always escaped your attention. The symphony of birdsong. Colourful spiders hanging below a leaves. Ants on safari. A solitary bee, it's home a hole in the soil. A paintbox of flowers. Acrobatic dragonflies.

I've been nose to nose with a field vole, feeding on discarded beetroot. They're nearly blind, so a bit of careful creeping gets you really close. Watched a wolf spider patrolling beside my pond. If you have chickens, they're a source of constant amusement.

When to observe
Early morning or at dusk during spring, summer or autumn are the best times. Lots of wildlife needing to feed. But any time of day is beneficial.

Try it in winter? Are you crazy? Most wildlife is tucked up warm and cosy... just as you should be!


Is there anything as easy to grow as chives? Doubt it. Grow from seed, even better if you can get a few bulbs from a friend. Within a season you'll be splitting the bulbs, making yourself a bigger display.

In fact, you'll need to divide the plants every three or four years to keep them productive. And it's a good idea to cut plants back monthly during the growing seasons to maintain a steady supply of fresh stalks. If you cut back alternate plants every fortnight that will ensure you have a constant supply. That's about the only maintenance required.

Look great planted in a pot even before the bright purple flowers burst forth in May. Drying the flowers prolongs their use. I use them for decorative edging, as shown above on my allotment. They're great for attracting bees.

Milder in taste than onions or garlic, not only are a few chopped stalks great with cheese, potatoes or to liven up a salad, they season dishes with their more subtle onion flavour. The flowers are edible too. Rich in vitamins A and C, calcium and iron, their medicinal properties are like garlic, but weaker. So eating chives is good for you. They're good for other crops too. Planting chives between carrots repels unwanted bugs.

The best annual flower to grow from seed?

No question for me... cosmos. Here's my first batch for 2015. Four days from sowing to showing. Must be the fastest germinating seeds around.

Varieties from two to four feet. Big choice of colours. Heaps of blooms. Trouble free. Cover a big area for no more than £1, and best of all they'll flower right through to the first frost of winter.

Unconvinced? Just try them. You won't be disappointed. Just look below at the display I had last summer...

Cape Gooseberry

Hurrah! Almost given up on the cape gooseberry seeds planted a couple of weeks ago. A stray weed seedling that popped up within a couple of days fooled me into believing that was it, and the rest of the seeds had failed. But no, here they all come pushing their heads up through the compost.

The seeds were a gift from a fellow allotmenteer last year. How could he refuse me after I'd drooled over his strange and exotic plant with papery pods and bright orange fruit? Now I'll have about fifty. But that's good... I can give some away to friends and family and gain swap credits in the process.

They're such an attractive looking plant. Even better, the fruit are delicious to eat. Here's an image of what I'm looking forward to.

It's crunch time...

First of the salad vegetables planted out. Arctic lettuce, grown from seed on the magic study windowsill. As usual, sown far too many. Good to get something fresh and green on the plot.

Even better to come, though. Managed to get lettuce seeds for the rare Brown Goldring lettuce from friends. The plants grow strongly throughout the year with sweet and very crisp leaves. Make space for more seed trays on the windowsill!

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