Monday, 24 August 2015



I got into allotments in the early sixties during my five year gardening apprenticeship with the Dundee Parks dept. I was very keen to learn everything about gardening, but there was no chance of getting knowledge of vegetables or fruit growing in a park, so I got an allotment plot on Stirling Park on the Dundee Law. Our day release gave us a half day on the demonstration plots in Duntrune Terrace then another half day of written work at the Kingsway Technical College. The best way to remember this information was to get some land and grow the plants to text book standards.
Allotments also gave me the outdoor life, making numerous new friends and plenty exercise. It got into my blood and I have had an allotment most of my life.
However we all need a break so this summer we had a holiday visiting friends in Finland. To add variety to this holiday we visited a couple of Finnish allotment sites. Allotment life is taking off in Finland as a means of getting back into nature in the short summer season.

Finland is quite far north so winters start in October and can run well into March or April. It can be very cold and dark and snow depth of four feet can be quite normal. Most Fins I saw in Helsinki lived in flats without gardens as the growing season is so short that most folk don’t bother with gardening. However as life moves on and folk get a bit more money and leisure time the desire to get outdoors for fresh air, sunshine, exercise and to grow a few flowers is very strong.

Allotment gardening began after the war when people needed to get outside into the sun after
the dark long cold winters. Land was leased out to groups who would allocate plots for cultivation during the short growing season. This idea caught on but was taken a few steps further as many folk wanted to spend the whole summer months in their garden, so cottage allotments were born.
I visited one site of about sixty plots where there were no fences, sheds or greenhouses. Weeds were a big problem as everything had to be done in the summer months, as the land was frozen over and covered in snow for almost six months in winter. Most plots grow a range of fruit and vegetables but flowers cover a third or more of every plot. I am told that people have a strong urge to grow colourful flowers to brighten up their summers after the long winters. However the Marjaniemi Cottage Allotments in Helsinki were totally different. Here there are 305 gardens each about 400 square meters and every one has a small wooden cottage on every plot. They all have hedges around the boundaries and every plot holder is required to plant at least one fruit tree. Most have several. Again flowers are more evident than vegetables, but fruit growing is very important. Lawns are also everywhere for outdoor relaxation and a place for the kids to play on. Cottages may be small but they all have full facilities for summer living and all Fins have their saunas. The site has a very strong sense of community and organizes regular events for open days, harvest festivals for selling fruit, mid summer solstice parties and bonfire as well as Christmas parties. Children are well catered for in these events.

Wee jobs to do this week

They have a strong sense of community and get together in large groups for site maintenance, repairing roads, bridges and even demolishing and rebuilding cottages. The community has their own licensed clubhouse, with toilets, laundry, workshop with weaving loom, and of course communal sauna. No cars are allowed on site so children can play safely and roads have no tarmac. Water and electricity are only available from April to October as nobody is allowed to live in the cottages all year round.
Start Save seed heads from annual (Ladybird) and biennial poppies (Iceland) to grow on for next year. Once dried and extracted from their pods and kept in a cool place they will keep for over a year. Other annuals can also be saved this way.
Keep feeding bedding plants in tubs and baskets especially with geraniums, fuchsias and impatiens that you wish to keep for another year as strong healthy plants with good growth are essential for the best cutting material.


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