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Our Allotment Yellow Book Open Day

This was our 4th annual NGS Open Day at our allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Community. In the past we had been dogged by bad weather, heavy rain, high winds and once even excessively high temperatures. But today was to be different – the weather was perfect so we were set for a successful day. We open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme and thus we are proud to appear in their famous Yellow Book.

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Members of the public are invited to look around the individual plots and all our communal spaces. They can follow our Interest Trail, look at the wildlife areas and the communal gardens and the children have quiz sheets to enjoy and can use the features we have made for our members’ children such as the Willow Dome, Turf Spiral and Willow Tunnel. We turn our Communal Hut and the area around it into a Tea Shop for the day so that our visitors can indulge in tea, coffee and home made cakes and biscuits.

All the money raised goes to the NGS’s charities including Macmillan Nurses, Marie Curie and Help for Hospices.

Here are a few of the scarecrow creations members came up with. Little Miss Muffit, Peter Rabbit, Little Red Ridinghood, Dr Foster et al.

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On one plot visitors were asked to help Little BoPeep find her lost sheep. I will admit it took me ages to find him for a photo shhoot


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The Wildlife Trust brought all this equipment for bug hunting and the volunteer from the Shropshire Mammal Group stayed on all afternoon entertaining and informing.


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Visitors took every chance to sit and enjoy our tea shop, where refreshments were on tap all afternoon.

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A few of the younger members just relaxed in the sunshine!


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Jude the Undergardener found a good spot to set her stall selling our herbaceous perennials she had grown from seed.

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Members were on hand to talk to our visitors, give advice and answer questions. Some visitors found comfy seats all round the site.

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A good day was had by all and we felt proud to have raised over £1000  for such good charities.

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A town riverside walk

Although we live close to our county town of Shrewsbury we go for months between visits to the banks of the River Severn, in whose loops the town sits snuggly. In the summer the council garnish the river banks with bright coloured plants in all sorts of containers and hanging baskets.

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I am not that keen on these brightly coloured bedding annuals but they seem to fit in with their setting so well here. Mother nature herself adds a little subtle planting herself with wild flowers growing close to the water and wonderful waterfalls of reflections.

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Our footbridge an old Victorian suspension bridge has recently been completely refurbished and it is looking smart in its new green suit. The builders greatest challenge was to make sure that after the make-over the old bridge retained her sway. As you walk across her she sways from side to side!

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This weekend is time for the famous Shrewsbury Flower Show so when we reached the open parkland spaces alongside the river we found signs of the village of tents and rows of arena seats appearing at a great rate of knots. It seemed to be growing up around us as we walked towards the little sunken garden called The Dingle.We now anticipate our day out at the show on Saturday most eagerly. We hope to go in the afternoon and stay until closing time with the magnificent firework display over the river.

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And so to the Dingle herself, which is not my cup of tea at all, but it is enjoyed by thousands every year. It is all a bit garish for my taste, but I do admit that it takes a great deal of skill to create and maintain it. It certainly gives pride to the town. Come on a tour with us and see what you think.

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We wandered back into the town centre to have a look at how the town council had decorated the Square as part of their “Britain in Bloom” campaign. All the allotment sites in and around the town had planted up mini-allotments small enough to fit on a pallet and these were collected up and put in the square. Local artists crafted two scarecrows from metal to give an extra dimension.

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Each post marking loading bays along the High Street had been given a topknot of Ipomaea in two foliage colours. Very subtle and very effective.

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Allotment Open Day 2013

Sunday July 14th was the day we opened our allotment community gardens for everyone to come and have a look at what we get up to, and to help raise money for charities under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme. We are proud to be part of this great scheme and we love seeing our lotties featured in their famous Yellow Book.

Visitors were greeted by committee members Di and Jill, who took the entry fees and gave out tickets, trail sheets, children’s quiz sheets and competition voting forms (more about that later).

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The allotmenteers had been busy the week prior to our opening mowing the grass, edging and weeding the communal borders and ensuring their own plots were looking at their best. And it did look good! As chairman I felt proud of what was achieved that week.

Bunting was hung from sheds and a pair of galvanised watering cans planted up with diascias and blue fescue grasses  decorated the entrance to the central grass pathway. We made sure all information signs were clear and visible.

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Some members even provided extra little sitting areas alongside their plots with shade over comfy seats. Phil and Doreen created an outdoor lounge. It looked brilliant and drew many admirers and many visitors stopped off for a rest and a chat.

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A popular part of our day is the tea shop which we create around our communal huts enhanced with gazebos and an assortment of tables and chairs all brought in for the day by lottie members. Sherlie, an allotmenteer and florist, added beautiful floral decorations to the centre of each table. Members bake all week prior to the event and the array of cakes is stunning and oh so tempting.

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A feature of our open days is the involvement of our visitors in selecting the winners of our annual site competitions. Each year we hold a scarecrow competition and the theme this year was occupations and as always our members’ imaginations ran wild. We were treated to the sight of a scarecrow undertaker, a pilot, a school crossing lady, a farm labourer, a lumberjack, a nurse, a doctor a tractor driver

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I had the rather over-ambitious idea that I could make a “Biggles the Pilot” scarecrow, which was quite a task and needed the help of gardening mate Pete to put it up on top of our central arbor. Pete is a good foot taller than me!

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We persuaded one of our newer members to open her shed for all to see as it has such a beautiful interior. We call it the “Chic Shed”. It is painted all white inside with a storage bench with padded seat on top, a lovely dresser and even colouring books, pencils and crayons etc for her granddaughter.

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Another competition this year was a new one and again we asked our visitors to choose the winners. It was for land art/sculpture and it proved to be very popular with lots of pieces for our guests to consider.

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Jude the Undergardener won this competition with her woven twisted willow.

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For the children on our site we held a competition where we asked them to plant up an item of footwear, and we saw colourful flowers grown in slippers, boots and wellies. In the pictures below they are shown lined up in front of the two mini-allotments grown for display in the town square later.

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As well as the tea shop we had a plants sale table where Jude, aka Mrs Greenbench or The Undergardener, sold plants she had raised from seeds and cuttings, both herbaceous perennials, herbs and vegetables. We had a display from Linton, one of Shropshire’s Master Composters who answered visitors’ queries concerning their composting.

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So just how successful was the day? We had lots of visitors many of whom stayed all day and obviously enjoyed their walk around, helping us choose our competition winners and indulging in the offerings of the tea shop and the plant stall. We raised £1065 to send in to the National Garden Scheme, a figure of which we are most proud.

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Allotments under Snow


Today we braved the snow and floods up at our allotment site and went for a walk around to look at what turned out to be a very different world to the one we usually see. The pictures illustrate just how long it may be before we can get any gardening done up there. We still have root crops in the ground – in December it was too wet to get on the soil and now it is all under the white stuff.

Here is the actual green bench that inspires the name of my blog.


The scarecrows remain on duty whatever the weather and shrug off the snow and ice.



Wheelbarrows wait patiently.

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The plots have a forlorn look but beneath the ice and snow the soil is waiting – waiting for a little more light, more heat from the sun and plenty of evaporation to lessen the moisture content.

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The Winter Garden is full of interest.

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The contractors preparing our site extension in the adjoining field were toiling away in the snow, ice and waterlogged soil. They are putting in drainage and clearing out an old pond to create a wildlife pond for us all to enjoy. The ground they overturn presented birds with a rich feeding ground. Blackbirds, Redwings, Fieldfares, Jays, and Thrushes both Song and Thrush revelled in a fresh supply of worms and ground creatures.


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A Wander Around our Allotments in November

The penultimate lottie wander post for 2012 and at last the weather is providing a few bright cold days. This is what we look forward to in this autumnal month, rather than the wet dark days we have been presented with in the first few days. The light is warm and gives a crisp edge to any photos taken as the blue haze of summer has disappeared.

We went up the lottie yesterday to deliver some spare seeds for the Seed Swap basket and to collect some greens left by fellow plot holders for our chickens. They are spoilt by our friends from the site! It was mid-afternoon and we had not intended to stop to work, but we changed our minds. We got out the communal mowers and rakes and gave the final two meadows their annual “hair cuts”. Jude, The Undergardener did most of the work as it is a bit difficult with my spine and leg pains, so I wandered off taking advantage of the special quality of the day’s light and shot off a couple of dozen pics with my Galaxy.

As we worked on the meadows the resident Field Voles scuttled off as they felt the mower’s vibrations and disappeared down their holes. We left a few clumps of wildflowers standing for everyone to enjoy before winter cuts them down. Field Scabious, Mallow and Sunflowers.

The meadows that are already trimmed look flat and brown, but the pathways mown through them look crisp and green.

The foliage in our Sensory Garden is given extra vitality in the November sunshine.

The next shot is a view of the site boundary through the seed heads of a white-flowered Actaea across the Spring Garden. In the Spring Garden a tiny Acer shows that you don’t have to be big to impress.

In the meadows the last of the grasses and sunflowers stand tall and proud.

Up in the mature Sycamore and Oak the resident bats will be shuffling around and preening in readiness to leave their roosts in the boxes and go on the feed for moths and night-flying insects. Bats are our night-time pest control patrols. In the daylight hours we are being entertained by birds of prey often being mobbed by our flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks . Peregrines, Buzzard, Red Kite, Kestrel and Sparrow Hawk.

Around the plots the gardeners are preparing their plots for the winter, beds are cleared and manure piled up or spread over the surface.

A few crops remain for winter sustenance.The red stems and purple leaves of Ruby Chard add a burst of colour. Brassicas are covered to give protection from ravenous and greedy Wood Pigeons who love to eat the sweet centres of Brussels Sprouts and the tenderest, newest leaves of cabbages.

A few remaining flowers add extra brightness to the plots.Tthat most popular of companion plants, the Calendula brightens up compost areas and odd roses still perform in the Summer Garden. We can expect these David Austin roses to continue to treat us to flowers until the new year.

The star of the site for the next few months will be the Winter Garden and it is already showing promises and hints of what delights it has in store for us in times ahead. As leaves fall from trees and shrubs the colours and textures of the stems and trunks will come into their own.

We have endured a wet summer and autumn with each month breaking previous rainfall records. Crops have been poor and we have been flooded four times. Dave, the Scarecrow looks a bit worse for wear too!

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Our Allotment Scarecrow Competition 2012

As promised in my recent post about our NGS Open Day this post will be a gallery of photos of some of the scarecrows made by our allotmenteers for our scarecrow competition. Our theme this year was the year’s celebrations, The Olympics and The Queen’s Jubilee. The first is the creation that won the competition. Enjoy the characters!

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The Allotments Open Day

For one day each year, in the middle of July, we open our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community, for charity. We open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme so are proud to be in the famous Yellow Book. The choice was made to join the NGS because they raise money for caring charities, such as the Macmillan Nurses and Marie Curie. This is our second year of opening – in the first year in gale force winds and rain we raised £415 and this year on a dry day in the middle of the wettest of summers we raised £815 – so we feel a little proud! This means we have now sent the NGS £1230.

We chose July as the month to open as it seemed to be a month when we would be most guaranteed to have a spell of good weather to encourage visitors to come along. Last year we opened in heavy rain and gale force winds.

This year however after weeks of rain, we had two dry days coinciding with the day when we planned to spruce up and prepare the site and the open day itself. Although the whole area was very wet underfoot, plots themselves too wet to get on, some paths unusable and standing water in places, we felt the site looked as good as it could.

The day of the opening dawned bright and dry. The sun was shining and it felt warm. As we arrived early in the morning the car park was full and the site crawled with members working away. Soon the signs were in place, the gazebos up, the tea shop readied and the quiz pictures in place. We felt ready!

We were so pleased to see so many plot holders helping out in so many ways – true community spirit! The tea shop was stocked with dozens of cakes baked by members and the table under the gazebos were made attractive and welcoming after one member, Shirlie, created beautiful table centre posies, magazines were placed on them for visitors to read and our photo albums made available for their enjoyment.

Tracy getting the tea shop sorted.
Special “Allotment Cakes” carrot cakes decorated with petals of Calendula and Borage.
Tea shop all ready for action and in plenty of time.
Di and Jill prepare their “meet and greet” table.
Warning signs in place.
The volunteers from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) take a break once their display is set up in readiness.
Pete and Sherlie all ready and togged up in fluorescent safety to do car park control.

As soon as the clock showed 1:00 our visited started arriving – it is always a relief when the first one comes through the gate. Each visitor was handed a map and suggested route, competition details. Children were given a quiz sheet requesting they find pictures of some of our wildlife hidden around the site, matched to their favourite habitats.

We invited our visitors to judge two competitions for us during their amblings, The Best Scarecrow and The Favourite Plot. The two following pictures show the winning plot and the winning scarecrow.

The plots are all neat and ready for the perusal of our guests including Jill’s pink plot.
Ken and Lesley’s very beautifully designed scarecrow.

As we pride ourselves in designing our site and interest trail to be accessible to all we were pleased to see so many young families with toddlers or youngsters in push-chairs and people with mobility problems some using sticks or crutches, others wheelchairs or mobility scooters. We were delighted how easily they accessed the site and we received many compliments.

Our visitors enjoyed lots of free advice and even free strawberries and fresh peas straight off the plots. I spent most of my day as a mobile “Gardeners Question Time”, answering queries about pests, diseases and how to grow certain crops and identifying plants. I was handed a cabbage leaf with pests attached and a drawing of a “nasty, looking insect which looked like a dragon and was mostly black with bits of red”. I managed to identify the dragon insect as the larvae of a ladybird and the cabbage dwelling ones as whitefly. I suggested that the ladybirds should be encouraged to stay and informed the gardeners that they were very lucky to have them, but had to tell the cabbage growers that they were not lucky and advised them to get rid of their pests quickly.

Some of our friends from the Shropshire Hardy Plant Society organised a plant sale and many guests left happy with their bags or boxes of unusual plants.

Most visitors who came spent several hours looking around with occasional breaks for a sit while enjoying a tea and cake, with some staying for the whole four hours we were open.

“The Undergardener”, Jude used her teaching experience to good purpose showing young visitors interesting artifacts found by plot holders such as an old Wren’s nest and an aborted Wasp nest.

Several plot holders worked on their plots so that our visitors could ask them questions, others sat on picnic benches around the site to greet visitors and make them welcome.

When we closed and the last of our guests had left members rallied around and returned the site back to its former state. The tea shop returned to its function as a community hut, the gazebos were taken down and returned to their boxes, signs along the local roads were pulled up and put back into store. The RSPB and HPS volunteers packed up their goods and gazebos and said their goodbyes, and said they looked forward to our open day in 2013.

The last visitors to leave were these two characters who had spent the day sat comfortably in their thrones under the trees and greeted their subjects.

It had been a great day! Our visitors book contained some complimentary comments. We enjoyed reading them as they help show that we are achieving our aims. Here are some to examples to share.

“Fantastic, so much to see, great kids trail, thank you.”

Completely lost in the interesting ideas. What a wonderful time I’ve had!”

A truly inspiring place, wonderful for wildlife and kids.”

Beautiful plots and welcoming tea and cake.”

“Inspirational model for all allotments.”

Friendly, knowledgable gardeners.”

Inspiring and clever ideas to encourage wildlife whilst giving plenty of space for produce. So much done in three years.”

A great community space!”

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Clumber Park – The Walled Garden

We have watched over the last few years how the walled garden at Clumber Park has been brought back to life. Although it is a few hours from home we visit at least once a year.

Now it is a peaceful place to wander around admiring the vegetable growing techniques, the orchards and the meadows beneath, the long flower borders, the trained fruit on the walls themselves and the national collection of rhubarb.

We were very lucky on this recent visit as we had our own personal guide who came around with us. He was grey haired and didn’t say a lot but he didn’t mind when I took his portrait.

We like to approach it along the dramatic avenue of cedars where the enticing view of the distant old gates within the warm red of the tall brick walls draws us in. The cedars themselves have such sculptural qualities and an air of mystery pervades the shadows under their glaucous sweeping branches some scooping down to touch the grass below.

The tall warm bricked walls are now protecting skilfully trained apples, pears, peaches, cherries and figs. In the open a collection local varieties of fruit are being established and in the borders below the walls herbaceous plants, herbs and the National Collection of Rhubarb varieties flourish.

The wide central gravel path that bisects the walled garden runs from the main gates to the greenhouse. It runs between a colourful  double herbaceous border.

Old fruit trees remain to give a sense of continuity and sit comfortably amongst gently swaying meadows. We were delighted to see a Medlar in flower.

We enjoyed discovering ideas to take home with us as we moved within the vegetable growing areas, such these rustic supports for peas and sweetpeas made from birch prunings. Much of the productive planting was done in neat, long and impressively straight lines.

Being run along totally organic lines the walled garden was well-provided with bird nesting boxes and insect shelters to attract beneficial insects.

As we wandered around we noticed amongst the productive rows of veggies, this beautiful Victorian glass and metal cloche still in regular use.  It performed as well now as it always has done just like the walled garden itself.

As we prepared for our journey back to Shropshire, our helpful little cheery guide waved a small wave and wandered off.

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The National Garden Scheme and our Open Day

In mid-July each year we open our allotment community site for charity, which we do under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme. So we appear in the famous “Yellow Book” of gardens open throughout England and Wales. Our first opening was in July 2011.

The weather was exactly what you would choose not to have on an open day particularly in mid-July. Strong winds and heavy rain! But we had to go ahead and lots of volunteers spent the morning preparing for the afternoon, creating a tea shop out of Hut 2, putting up gazebos and putting up direction signs, car park signs. toilet signs, tea shop signs – lots of signs! Throughout the previous week members had been tidying up their plots and cutting the communal grass areas. A working party the previous weekend made the green spaces look spick and span.

As the time drew near Jude the Undergardener and Di, a fellow plotter, set themselves up to sell the tickets.

We nervously awaited the time to open and the weather just kept getting worse so we were worried that no visitors would turn up. But at the time of opening our visitors started to arrive. It was too windy to use umbrellas so they wandered around braving the wind and rain, stopping for frequent cups of tea and home-made cakes.

We judge the site’s scarecrow competition on the day and the entries give extra interest for the visitors. The fine couple in the photo were modelled on one of the plot holder’s parents! For 2012 our scarecrows will be based on the Olympics and/or The Queens Jubilee.

In the end we sent about £460 to the National Garden Scheme treasurers, so we were quite pleased. We hope for better weather this year when we open on Sunday 15th July.

In the Spring each year all the gardeners who open their gardens meet to launch the new season of openings, and the Shropshire gardeners meet at the home of the County Organiser Chris Neil at Edge Villa, close to where we live. We all meet up again to chat, find out about how successful the county’s gardens were the previous year and have a glass of bubbly and nibbles (extremely tasty ones they are too!). This year Chris announced that 2011 had been a record year with over £60 000 being raised.

At the end of the formality Chris and her husband, Neil invite us to wander around their own garden. So come with me and share in some highlights.

To find out more about the famous Yellow Book and the National Garden Scheme look up And to find our entry in it look up Bowbrook Allotment Community in the Shropshire section.

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Super Scarecrows

We have a real champion creator of scarecrows at our lottie site, Bowbrook Allotment  Community. Every year Mrs Anna as she calls herself, crafts splendid characters for us to enjoy. Last year we had a scarecrow version of Shrek but this year she produced three wonderful characters based on her family apparently. The old couple who doze in the shade under our sycamore tree are based on her parents while the pink beauty is herself 10 years from now. Incredible!