As I hunched over my Onions, doing a bit of weeding about 11 years ago, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Clive my ‘allotment’ neighbour. An old chap, brown clothes, occasionally smoked a pipe. Definitely spent a lot of time on his bench, which seemed as old as him. Had a large pile of unidentified wood next to his Cabbages. Liked to give me flowers.
“Now then, what’s all this?” he said while holding a bunch of Carnations and proffering them my way.
“What do you mean?” I said, suddenly turning all coy and pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about.
The week before I had put in an all-day stint at my plot, transforming it from bleak hillside to a lovely new, garden that was laid out in a diamond pattern.
In truth, I knew it would cause trouble. As the last of my plants had gone in and I surveyed the other plots, I knew there would be talk. I would be in for it when Clive turned up. And here he was.
“You’re not going to get a hoe through that,” he said, I’m sure with a slight grin. “It’ll be riddled with weeds before you know it”.
This I knew. But it wouldn’t be because my rows weren’t straight like his it would have more to do with the fact that my other neighbour was cultivating Dandelions. Clive’s method of dealing with weeds was to pay a man with a wearable weed-killer sprayer, (a backpack of death if, you will) £10 to ‘weed’ his plot. I simply smiled, took my flowers and got back to my hand weeding.
My diamond plot was a bit of a pain, if I’m honest. It took more time to weed it, and eventually the pathways started to disintegrate and looked a bit shoddy. And because it was on a windy hillside most of the bed-edging blew away.
But, boy did it look a treat in full summer!
And, I think the pattern kept me accountable. Because so many people said it wouldn’t work, I made damn sure it did. I was up there every weekend, and most nights after work.
The pattern bug has never left me and I’ve made various attempts to re-create my allotment experience in my own garden. Last year I designed and made a pretty substantial garden in the pattern of a sunburst. I subsequently wrote about it here, in various magazines and was even featured in a book.
So, I decided to take the Sunburst design and turn it into a sort of Do-It-Yourself Guide (see below).
The main question most people have is, ‘will my vegetables grow if I plant them closer together in order to create a pattern?’ The answer is yes – for the most part. Some of the larger vegetables like Cabbages and Cauliflower will need added space around them. And other vegetables like Squash and Pumpkins are not well suited to being grown in cramped conditions. But most other vegetables will tolerate a lot. And some, like cut and come Lettuce, seem to be almost designed with patterns in mind.
So here is my guide to growing a kitchen garden in the pattern of a sunburst. I offer it up as an experiment in kitchen gardening. And dedicate it to Clive, if he’s still with us.
Click on the image below to download the guide.
ps. It’s designed for a 10ft x 16ft plot – because that’s the size of many of my beds. But they can be easily adapted by rearranging or chopping off bits to make your own sizes.
pps. Make sure your soil has lots of organic matter in it and the ph is around 6.5. You might also think about using fertilisers mid-way through the season.