A Vegetable Garden in the Inverleith Allotments, April to August 2018.
When back in 2012 we migrated to Scotland we had no plans for growing a vegetable garden.
In Greece I had grown and cultivated small urban gardens. I had never attempted to grow a vegetable garden, though. The closest thing to growing vegetables was for me to grow a number of herbs from spring to autumn and then preserve the perennial ones (e.g. lemon verbena, origanum dictamus and others) during winter in sheltered places outdoors.
We have been living in Edinburgh for more than five years. We have lived in a flat, without access to a garden for us to run, though we have been blessed to live in a city which is a delight to look at, due to the many private and public gardens and green belt spaces (reported to be an amazing 49% of the Edinburgh Old and New Town areas).
Following an article on a small afforestation project in the hills of the island of Crete, which I wrote for the Mediterranean Garden Society’s Journal and was published in January 2018, I was given a chance to assist a tenant and run a garden plot in the Inverleith allotments.
These allotments are to the north of the New Town, close to the renowned Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh. This year, 2018, the allotments celebrated the centenary anniversary of their establishment, close to the end of the First World War.
I was given almost complete discretion on how to run the plot as a vegetable garden,though I had been instructed to utilise existing seed provision. There had been seeds for garlic, onion, globe artichokes and one asparagus in store, which I should try to utilise. The shed in the plot was also well stocked with tools, though I opted to purchase a mattock, which is a tool more familiar to me, in addition to the two spades, rakes and other tools available.
The soil in March was too much soaked with winter rain water for any ground work to be undertaken in the plot. I had to wait for the soil to get a little dry. I started working/exploring the soil in early April. However, the soil was still mostly muddy and overrun by extensive layers of weeds. The weeds were so extensive that I could not compare them with anything I had seen anywhere in Greece.
Having worked out and cleared most of the soil in the plot from an abundant number of deeply rooted weeds, I proceeded to sow two rows of garlic and two rows of onion. I also had twelve cultivars of globe artichoke and seeds of six broad beans planted. I found a number of Jerusalem artichokes in the plot and replanted them in a restricted row and space.
I had consulted a few good books, specifically in the context of allotments, Scottish weather and vegetables. Gradually, friends and, what was more practical and relevant, the neighbours in my allotment plot gave me sound advice and guidance.
In May, having turned the soil once more, wherever there had been no plants in place already, I proceeded with planting twelve runner bean and later two young courgette plants. In early June I planted three rows of potatoes seeds (approx. 36 seeds of the Majestic and Wilja varieties).
Last, out of seeds I produced French climbing beans (four or five items) and sweet peas (approx. ten items), in a nursery hosted in the guest room of our flat. Though they suffered when I took them outdoors, they survived the relocation. Gradually they too made some slow progress.
The broad beans, runner beans, French climbing beans, onions, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and courgette plants seemed to have grown well, and promised a good crop.
On the other hand, the globe artichokes were a complete failure. It seems that the cultivars used had been totally dried out during their storage, thus they never had a chance of giving life to a plant. I just had to look at and admire the many attractive globe artichoke plants raised by some of my neighbours in the other allotment plots.
June and July of 2018 in Scotland, were exceptionally dry and by local standards warm (just above 20 Celsius). From mid-June onward this largely resulted in us regularly watering the plants in the allotment, as if we were in a Mediterranean region. The conditions for growth of the courgettes and the French beans in Scotland could hardly have been more favourable.In July I started making some elementary provision for an interim small planting of beetroot seeds. Then on a tentative basis I planted some tiny leeks for the winter season. Also, I purchased some autumn green manure, that is a mixture of clover, rye grass and mustard seeds, to be plantedin early October. This is intended to allow the plot to weather well the next harsh Scottish winter and add nutrients to the soil.
Though this was a vegetable garden, I was keen to plant a few flowers there as well, in line with the wishes of the tenant of the plot. In June I had planted two geraniums, a single begonia, three lavenders, lemon verbena in a large pot, and some thyme, chive, gazania and peppermint plants. The sweet peas were late in climbing up the canes supporting them and producing their colourful and radiating scent flowers.
My favourite herb is the lemon verbena in a pot. I trust that, if I take it indoors after the end of September, it may survive the harsh and cold Scottish winter. I may place it back outdoors next May. The rest of the above flowers/herbs, except for the lavender and the peppermint which seem to have been long established in other allotment plots, may not survive the winter into the next summer season.
Though one may miss the warmer and dry Mediterranean gardening conditions, I have enjoyed the adjustment to a more wet and cold gardening environment in Scotland. The challenges faced in each respective location are quite different, though the rewarding results, or crops in a vegetable garden, seem to provide much comfort and joy to the one directly engaged with gardening; this beneficial effect seems to also extend a little to those who get familiar with the gardening process and share some of the fresh produce.
- Inverleith Allotments Centenary booklet, 2018.
- Allotment, Handbook and Planner, RHS, edition 2015.
- Fruits and Vegetables for Scotland by Cox and Beaton, edition 2018.
- Getting started on the Allotment, By Derek Brooks, National Vegetable Society, published in 2013.
- D.T. Brown, Spring 2018 sowing seed and plant catalogue.