Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hospital Field Best Plot Competition winner 2010

Sally Ann Gatus and her daughter, Laura
Sally-Ann Gatus, the winner of the Best Plot Competition 2010 on Hospital Field, is a real allotment inspiration. When she first took on her plot in October 1996 it only had a few ancient gooseberry bushes on it. Now it is a haven of vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and wildlife. When she came to the site, her style of gardening, such as introducing a pond and an herb garden, was viewed with suspicion by some. One of her neighbours, now no longer a plotholder, used to make comments such as ‘what on earth are you doing lass, what do you want with a herb garden?’ and ‘you are supposed to plant in rows.’ Times have changes now and her organic practices, recycling and encouragement of wildlife are far more common on the site.

Though Sally is certainly the principal gardener on her plot she is often joined by her husband Kevin, children Laura and Angus and various friends and their children from Dringhouses Primary School where Sally has been running the gardening club for the last 2 years. She loves her Hospital Field plot and this enthusiasm has definitely rubbed on her kids. Sally has been very creative in the way she has involved and interested them in the plot. She believes in putting the kids in their old clothes and just letting them get dirty, ‘they love to build dens and they love to pick. And I think it is really important for them to be aware of nature and of plants and where food comes from’. However, she doesn’t stop at just letting the kids help on the plot. Sally told me one of the ways she kept her kids entertained, ‘My kids are really into fossils and crystals so one day I came down and cleared an area of the plot, I buried a plastic dinosaur head and marked the area up with string in a grid. I then gave the kids brushes and trowels and told them it was an archaeological dig. They absolutely loved it.’

As a keen recycler, she brings her vegetable waste from home and uses torn up cardboard and leaves to mulch her plants. She has even created a cloche from the frame of swing her kids have grown out of.  Her composting is really impressive too. She bags up all her tops and leaves them at one end of the plot for at least 6 months, then in April or May she digs trenches and digs it all back into the soil. The perennial weeds she drowns and makes into a weed tea to feed to the plants, the woody material she tends to chop up with secateurs and add to her path and once a year, around the 5th of November, she has a bonfire with the kids.

Sally often saves seeds from this year’s crops to sow in the next. Those seeds she doesn’t use or eat she uses to make homemade fat balls. She shared her recipe with me. The ingredients change according to what she has around but the basics are bacon rind, bread, old breakfast cereal, old seed, lard – you break up the lard into pieces and mix it into the other ingredients, you then press the mixture into pine cone and tie them to the trees.

Finally, her best piece advice, which she received when new to allotment gardening is ‘don’t water too early in the season because the plants will get used to it and when you have a dry spell they won’t have developed decent roots.’ That seems to me to be more useful advice than ‘you are supposed to plant in rows’.

N.B. I am still trying to get hold of the Hob Moor winner, Mrs Valerie Warren, for a similar article on her.  If you know her please ask her to get in touch with me.  Caroline Bush

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