Month fourteen and it's been gentle

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Here comes the Sun // Beatles

It’s 2pm and I’m here, at last, taking a deep breath. 

Travelling around a lot this month means my spare time that I use to visit the allotments is sharing itself with washing, cleaning, tidying let alone my own gardening which is screaming for attention.

But now, I’m here, in my sanctuary, restfully planning my time as I open the gate and pass through. Remembering when I arrived over a year ago, someone said they felt their heart rate slow down as soon as they walked through the entrance gate, smiling to myself I now happily identify with the feeling. Whatever the weather, as I stroll down the path, calmness awaits and shrouds me.

Today it’s still warm although a touch blustery left over from high winds that forced their way through yesterday and kept me safely tucked up inside. I check for the slate board my shed host and I write missives to each other on, I’ve offered to water her newly planted leeks, tomatoes and courgettes in the beds while she’s away and the board tells me to pick blackberries. I have to identify which of these plants I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on first though. If you don’t grow them they aren’t always obvious and I’m aware of my very first drawing of a sweetcorn plant that I thought was a leek! I could pretend to be more knowledgable than I am but if I’m honest about my ignorance I’m rewarded with kindness and information.

With every intention to move onto another plot once the watering of the beds is done I pack up my things but can’t quite drag myself away from the amazing display of bright pink dahlias on this plot. I know they don’t fit into the colour scheme, that’s obvious from the other beds but being a gift from an old allotmenteer who had to surrender his plot, they are welcomed and showing their appreciation by putting on an amazing display.

With the sun on my back I set up to draw a small flower straining to burst out from being a bud like a small child desperate to crawl when all they’ve managed to do is roll from side to side. Joined by happy bees we sit concentrating on our own tasks and focus on the flowers. I have a companion for most of the day on my pencils who only moves when I have to interrupt their rest to pick out the colour it’s sitting on.

My companion

My companion

My ‘usual’ is to sit in silence taking in the sounds around me. Not always though and today I quietly put on my earphones and listen to an audio book, soon becoming completely lost in the story and the drawing. I am so focussed I barely notice the people strolling up and down on the path but as my seat is low down it’s not easy to be seen behind this impressive wall of pink and green so I stay hidden. 

There are still so many people I don’t know here, and folk meandering along the path are often unfamiliar. I haven’t met approximately 50% of the plot owners but as my map of the plots I can draw on shows (see above) I have plenty to get on with.

I’m not the only one enjoying the dahlias

I’m not the only one enjoying the dahlias

Sitting quietly attracts the insect world, wasps, flies, tiny little flecks of colour that move rapidly land on my paper, bag, clothes and me. I am barely moving with just a slight nodding as my head moves up and down between the subject and the paper. My hand moves over a small space slowing encouraging colour onto the white page building up an image.

It takes me over two hours to draw two buds, one opening the other still closed with promises. The largest drawing is of the two is only 6cm in height. 

Dahlia buds

Dahlia buds

As I move to put things away a nearby allotmenteer emerges from his plot looking slightly battered from an encounter with the roses (a rose thorn in his head it turns out). He handles a white enamel mug with a blue trim and his arm outstretches offering me one of the raspberries. I take one and am lost in a heavenly world of summer, childhood memories, sunshine, holidays, seaside, swimming pools, all generated by this one simple delicious fruit. Our few words of conversation are interrupted by his phone ringing and I’m offered more raspberries to prevent them from “spilling out on the path”, I’m told to take one for Ron - who is on the phone and I thank Ron as well as the plot holder, for the four raspberries that I dare to take. For me these simple fruit are little jewels, their taste is so precious. As the conversation wanders away I am transported back to my own little heaven, letting each fruit slowly melt on my tongue and allowing the flavour to seep over my taste buds. I don’t understand or know why raspberries are so wonderful and magical to me, whether it’s the memories they conjure up or just the flavour, but a moment’s silence while eating a raspberry is hard to beat.

Blackberries ready to pick

Blackberries ready to pick

Picking blackberries as instructed, and there are plenty, injury soon occurs as the vicious thorns dig into my finger. It’s too small to see and yet its presence is felt, I know it’s there and later with a magnifying glass and tweezers I will try to extract it. A chemist has recently told me that the body will usually reject anything foreign like a thorn and I have some magnesium sulphate (which once applied onto a finger can be wrapped in cling film!) which will also help if this one is troublesome and persistent. Using my hands to draw means I am over sensitive to anything that might have strayed on to, and then pierced, the skin that shouldn’t have.

The years fall away, 2001, 1993, 1989, 1981, 1974, 1972, 1971 and I’m a small 7 year old child in my grandparents garden wearing a bikini picking soft fruit and getting covered with the juice as I put one in the wicker basket that is tied around my waist and then one in my mouth. Usually checking for anything living but not always. Squeezing between the rows of soft fruit, usually raspberries and going to the end of the row to empty my little basket into the slightly bigger one. Even with my rather large consumption we still had so many that jars and jars of jam were made to fill the cellar shelves, some coming home with us at the end of our six week holiday, packed carefully in our suitcases.

Far less efficient today as my scarf is regularly snagging on the blackberry bush, it gets removed and progress is quicker. Still messy though and I use some of my drinking water to wash my hands from the worst of the blue black stain.

At home the blackberries are washed and frozen, ready for a crumble filling.

My studio

My studio

Another evening as I finish my visit and the reminder that a season change is upon us as the sun dips down behind the trees much earlier than even a week or two ago, I am sitting quietly writing my allotment journal, aware of chatter and laughter today although it doesn’t feel that busy but it’s hard to see people tucked behind the high growing plants and fruit trees. I see the same person in my peripheral vision popping up to the left then the right of me, walking around and talking to people they find. I am enjoying the peace today though, so I dip my head down and manage to get away undetected and therefore undisturbed. Relishing the sense of aloneness that I can have here.

I am sitting next to an amazing plot that is full of colour and vibrancy. The sheds have been recently repaired and painted. One shed has low windows along the side which would be wonderful to sit and draw behind in the cold and wet winter months, but I don’t know the allotmenteer well enough to ask if that’s possible so the thought stays with me. The thought of sitting in the dry with a view is so tempting though. 

The plum tree is laden with fruit and as I peer into the wasps trap hanging I can’t actually see any wasps so I hope the plums will survive without being eaten by insects.

In my mind I am planning to return to the plot with a stretched piece of watercolour paper and spend a whole day drawing this plot, it’s so picturesque and nearby plot holders admire and amusingly know they can’t achieve this level of perfection!

It turns out opening the gate when two fingers are encased in cling film holding the magnesium sulphate onto the area where some rose thorns are embedded, isn’t that easy. After gardening all day yesterday I come up to the allotments hoping to just enjoy them rather than have to work on them, but gaining entry is proving tricky with a very sore thumb and finger. Determination sees me through and I get in eventually just as a police helicopter starts circling above. It’s so close I could believe it’s circling right over the allotments but it’s unlikely and no doubt the main roads nearly (the A1 and A406) are taking up the pilot’s attention. It’s a reminder that the peace and quiet of the allotments is not reality and just outside of the gates is a city with all its troubles and strifes. 

Plot pages

Plot pages

Today I am drawing a ‘plot page’ again, which I haven’t done for quite a few weeks. This time I’m focussing on S3B whose new plot holders I met at the allotment barbecue. I’m just setting myself up when I am offered some Turkish cucumbers, much smaller than the cucumbers I know and see in shops or that I have grown previously. I can’t resist and tuck into one later in the afternoon. 

In the basket are also four achocha which I have never seen or heard of before. They are a relative of the humble courgette and come from the High Andes, all the way to Highgate! Apparently these are somewhat rampant and if grown next year will be grown in isolation.

Achocha

Achocha

As I settle to relax and draw I am disturbed by whoops and shouts, bangs and clattering from a nearby building site. I don’t know where it is but the breeze is bringing the sound over to me. I attempt to hunker down into the space and enjoy the peace and quiet that surrounds me but as I sit hidden surrounded by tall bushes a plot holder who obviously hasn’t spotted me has a hands free conversation on their phone as they pace the path to and fro. It’s a day when the earphones and audio book are required and soon I am lost in the world of make believe and blackberries. My peripheral vision put on hold I am just looking at the sketchbook page and the subject matter.

Plums

Plums



The sun is warming my back again as I struggle with the natural watercolours I have chosen to paint with. The colours are muted and beautiful and I have to allow a degree of artistic license. These colours are made with natural plant and vegetable dyes, very different to the vibrant exciting colours of the liquid watercolours I usually use in my work and it seems more appropriate when I can to use the natural colours. The liquid watercolours come in small jars which is unpractical when balancing a drawing board on one’s lap, I can see the disaster looming if I ever attempt to bring them with me.

I am not aided by forgetting my water pot today so I am using the paint tin lid which is shallow and the water contaminates very quickly. Possibly hindered by using carbonated water, I have also forgotten my water bottle and  sparkling water is all I have stashed in my box in the shed. Getting up often to wash out the water and refill from the unruly allotment taps into a small paint tin lid is not going to happen, the taps are fine for using with hoses but not really practical for my needs.

The inevitable happens and I spill water onto the pages of the sketchbook. I can’t be angry with myself for being clumsy in this space though, it’s about growing and trying and failing and trying again so I take this onboard when I’m here.

Pear

Pear

Deciding to use graphite pencil and fine liner pens seems to work better, I soon become lost in the world of plums and comically jump out of my skin when a large thud on the ground right behind me happens. The large apple tree is throwing down its ripened fruit with surprising aggression, thankfully I am out of its range, just. A hard hat rather than my sunhat might be in order this autumn.

I won’t get any prizes for fashion at the allotments!

I won’t get any prizes for fashion at the allotments!

Having relaxed with my work I head back to the apples I struggled to paint earlier. I felt defeated and a bit deflated earlier. I’m now adding detail with coloured pencil to the base of muted watercolour tones.

Soon the drawing is working better and I feel relieved that my plot page isn’t compromised by a lousy drawing! 

Apples

Apples

I have no need for the earphones any longer, the building work has finished and I can just make out the murmuring of plot holders as they chat and the angry tyranny of magpies in the trees that line the edge of the plots.

A familiar sound of flip flops from the gate heralds the arrival of another plot holder who has arrived at the end of the working day to water his plot. Soon the sound of trickling water as the leaves bask in the wetness of the splashing water filters through.

Most people haven’t spotted me but the allotmenteer in the plot next door eventually does and we nod our hellos and have a brief chat. I am somewhat mesmerised by the water catching the light and would love to capture this somehow, but I am way too tired now. 

It’s 7:30pm the sun is dropping lower and the light is beginning to fade, it’s time to go home. Although sunny and temperatures are set to rise to 30°C again this weekend, the smells and colours of the allotments are definitely beginning to welcome a new season.

My sanctuary

My sanctuary