Another long absence - this won't do at all. I feel I owe some explanation, and it's been due to a combination of anguish (not too strong a word) and absence.
I'll take them in reverse order, but before I get onto absence, note my patriotic breakfast above from way back in July, during the Tour de France. Blueberries and alpine strawberries from the garden - seems very far away now that we're well into autumn in Scotland.
So, onto absence. We've had a busy summer of being welded to our respective work desks, lots of travel to visit elderly parents, and much work at the allotment. In early June we had a brief trip to France for a walking holiday in the Tarn valley. We started and ended the trip in the beautiful city of Albi, and of course I had to take in some gardens while we were there. Very formal and orderly, from the grand to the potager variety.
And back to the allotment. We have committed ourselves to it in a big way this summer, and have enjoyed getting it into more productive order. At the moment we're dealing with the courgette glut. Some have escaped to become marrows - you can see the scale in the shot below if you realise that I have size 8 (European 42) feet.
I love the artistic bunching of vegetables. My husband thinks I'm mad.
And our shed has had a makeover - panels of wood replaced to make it watertight for the winter, and recently a bright but tasteful paint job, of which more in a later post.
And the anguish? As you probably know - inescapable if you live in the UK - tomorrow we face a vote that will decide if Scotland will become independent and the UK split up. I have found it impossible to have any creative, positive thoughts that would let me blog, but at this point I have to speak up for what I feel, and say that I am deeply upset and depressed at the prospect of losing my British citizenship. Not only that, I am distressed for the sake of the future generations.
If the vote goes the wrong way and is in favour of independence I don't know if I will have the heart to return to blogging. I suppose the consolation with gardening and growing is being able to concentrate on something more eternal than politics and the ebb and flow of empires.
In January the annual allotment fee invoice came in, and we had another stocktake about whether we had the time to keep the plot on. We hadn't got to the end of that when, what seemed like a week later, a red final demand notice came in. The waiting list for plots near us is very long - between 5 and 7 years - so although we hope not still to be in Edinburgh by that point, we couldn't face giving up and plot and going back on the waiting list. So here we are, committed for another year and watching the garlic grow.
I planted garlic on 4 January. By 16 February it was showing green shoots. When I was at the plot two weeks ago it was higher still, but I didn't get any photos. I'm just about to go along for a morning's work and will check on its progress then. Thankfully, despite the late planting we have had some days of frost to help bulb development.
Meantime, potatoes have been chitting away. Charlotte and Desiree, not too many of either because we want to leave space for more interesting things. Not that a home grown tattie isn't a delight, but there are other things which cost more and taste of nothing in the supermarket.
And finally - our new weed for this season. Foxglove seedlings, liberally strewn across the plot by the wild floxgloves on our inherited weed heap/compost pile. I'll dig a couple up for the garden, but the rest will have to come out. It seems a shame, but they are definitely a 'plant in the wrong place'.
Here's something that might give me some enthusiasm for the plot this year. Rhubarb compote, at 2 quid a pack! One of our favourite puddings is stewed rhubarb over Mackie's butterscotch ice cream. Try it - divine! With rhubarb for the taking at the allotment we've come to take it for granted. The prospect of having to buy it is rather horrifying.
The decision had been made and I was comfortable with it - happy even. We had rationalised that with parental illness on both sides and the need to travel more frequently to help out in house and garden (and both parental houses have large gardens) our time for allotmenteering was going to be even more squeezed. Add to that my husband starting a new job, and our wish to get out of Edinburgh more, and everything seemed to add up to a sensible decision not to renew our allotment lease.
Having made the decision, I tested it out on my emotions when I visited the plot in early December. What pangs of regret would I feel? I tried not to dwell on the 'glad to see the back of', such as the endless battle with couch grass, the heavy soil, the feeling of obligation at spending sunny Sundays at the plot instead of out on the Scottish hills. Perhaps because they were the only things growing, I did feel a pang about leaving the blackcurrant bushes and strawberry plants. But once home again I returned to my calm, settled conviction that giving up the plot was the right thing to do, and began to plan for weekends away.
And then the gales came. We dutifully visited the plot afterwards to check the state of the shed roof. Although we were giving up very shortly, we didn't feel we could hand over a shed that we had let deteriorate through the worst of the winter months. A section of tar paper had blown off, and it was decided that husband and son would return the following weekend to repair it.
They were out all afternoon, returning after dark. A good, solid repair had been carried out, and another decision made. We were keeping the plot for a further year, on the basis that so much investment had been made in infrastructure that we should try to maximise our return.
I sat and thought about the infrastructure. Blackcurrant bushes? Strawberry plants? Two compost bins? Posts for wires up against which to train non-existent raspberries? There is nothing else - no paving, no fencing, no greenhouse, no fancy border edging or raised beds. So I concluded that the only possible 'infrastructure' was the shed, and set about doing a mental U-turn towards planning and sowing. And perhaps hopefully still some weekends out of Edinburgh.
For the past month, because of my dad's illness, I haven't seen my own garden in daylight, far less the allotment. Instead we have spent the past five weekends here on Speyside. So I'm more familiar with the progress of autumn in my dad's garden than in my own.
These photos are from mid-October. The warm colours and late blooms are fading now, battered by rain and wind, and by the first frost of the year last night.
We'll see if the holly berries make it through to Christmas. The resident flock of sparrows is very partial to them. Some people net their holly bushes to preserve the berries, but I wouldn't go to those lengths, and certainly not when we're not here all the time to free any birds that might get caught up in the netting.
Dad is now out of hospital, so we may be visiting the allotment this weekend to see how the weeds are faring.
Despite lack of blogging activity, things have been happening at the allotment. It's not in a fantastic state, but it's not critical either.
Rather than try to update all at once, I'm embarking on a mini-series of updates. First up, our bountiful blackcurrants. Or they would have been if we hadn't gone away for two weeks just at the peak of the crop. We picked frantically the night before, and I froze 9lbs of berries. Our little camping chairs provided the perfect way to avoid back strain while picking.
When we returned, the crop was on the ground and the wasps were having a merry time. I did take another 1.5lbs from the bushes and made a few pots of jam straight away because the fruit was so ripe that it began to spoil once picked.
Difficult to know when to go on holiday as a gardener! If we'd gone the two weeks before we would have missed the strawberries. Are just-picked strawberriesin smaller quantity worth more than probably unmanageable loads of blackcurrants? There is complex exchange rate of gardening which I haven't fully worked out yet.
What crops did you miss by going on holiday this year?
All Spring we've been swaying one way and then the other as we discuss whether to keep on with the allotment. First of all I was absolutely convinced that we should give it up. We would have so much more time for all sorts of things we keep meaning to do but never get round to. Escaping Edinburgh and going walking at weekends. Staying in Edinburgh and discovering parts we have never visited in 28 years here. Tidying the loft. Painting the house.
My conviction was absolute. Then we went to the plot one glorious May evening, and I wavered. The next day I swung back to my original gut feel. The following weekend I sowed lettuce, Swiss chard, beetroot, carrots, spinach, rocket, and veered sharply in the opposite direction.
And so it has continued, and at the moment we are being swayed by a bountiful harvest of strawberries and blackcurrants.
We have more lettuce than we can handle. Our neighbours are resorting to making soup with what we inflict on them.
The onions are filling out, and it looks as if we will have a crop worth lifting this year.
And even the neglected and weedy pile of earth (a former compost heap/weed dump of the previous plot-holders) has put forth a stunning display of self-seeded foxgloves.
For the moment it seems as if we are staying put for another year. But we still have to find time to squeeze in our list of 'must-do' and 'nice to do'. A few more hours each day, and a few more days each weekend would be good.