Allotment News – November 2020

Still much to do
There is a feeling at this time of the year that everything is finished on the allotment. The last tomatoes have been picked and any green ones are now ripening on a windowsill. The bean frames are leaning over at an alarming angle and any pods that have clung on are turning brown. The flowers that once grew amongst our veg have either faded or are, like the condemned man, awaiting the first frost. It can seem like gloom and doom arrives with the month of November. The poet Thomas Hood had this feeling when he wrote:

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, –
November!

But I’m having none of that. If we look around us there is still so much to be done and, more importantly, so much that the allotment can give us in return.

We are currently using the empty beds to store winter hardy plants for next spring’s bedding – Wallflowers, Sweet Williams, Foxgloves and Marigolds. The green manure that we sowed as we lifted our potatoes and onions has grown vigorously and now gives our soil a warm blanket of green that will be dug in as the winter progresses. The compost we have nurtured all summer will be spread over the soil that is bare and any crops we still have in the ground like leeks and parsnips will be harvested with extra relish in the dark months ahead.

Alan Jenkins in his wonderful book Plot 29 says that he visits his allotment as to an elderly relative and is dutiful, loyal. I think of it as a friend who still needs me when the winter sun is low. The truth, of course, is that it is me who has the need – to nurture, to walk through memories. To grow.

Maintenance
As you will be aware if you have visited the allotments over the past year, the plots are in a good state of repair. They have been well tended, pathways have been mown and lots of produce has been grown. And how lovely to see so many flowers being cultivated amongst all that fruit and veg. However, there will be some basic maintenance tasks to carry out over the winter, including covering plots for new owners to take on in the new year. We are also keen to tidy up the area by the Watery Lane entrance so that it does not become a dumping ground but a space where manure or compost could be delivered. We are also keen to carry out some work on the large shed by the orchard, improving storage and strengthening the structure. If you are able to assist in any of these tasks we would love to hear from you and will be publishing details of when we will be starting work in the coming months.

Our thanks goes to all those people who have helped with the upkeep of the allotments over the past year, whether that be giving of time and labour so generously or donating equipment for general use. Your support is appreciated.

The Orchard
Our fruit trees have grown really well this year and the area we planted up just two years ago is beginning to look like a real orchard. I would like to think that this time next year we will be picking fruit and asking you to share in our bounty. Basic tree maintenance will continue in the winter and early spring.

Wildlife
Dave Musson has been keeping readers of the Prattler fully informed of developments in the wildlife area with his monthly articles, so suffice to say that the bio diversity that he and Mark and Mary Newstead have helped create in that area has enhanced what we on the allotments do, day in, day out. That is something we all benefit from.

Equipment
A range of equipment is available for allotment holders to borrow when working on the allotment site; this includes mowers, rotavators, wheelbarrows, brooms and watering cans. Many people will own some or all of the above, but for those who wish to get access to such equipment, please contact Lynda Eales (01327 341707) or Mike Langrish langrish_heyford@hotmail.com (01327 341390). We can ensure that you get the equipment you require at a mutually convenient time.

Allotment Holders
If you are considering growing your own fruit and veg, act quickly by contacting Lynda Eales on 01327 341707. We have a few vacant plots but at least five local residents who are keen to begin allotmenting. Rent night will be held in January – more details in the next edition of the Prattler. It is hoped that by then we can reallocate vacant plots so that everyone is able to benefit from this wonderful village resource.

Mike Langrish 

Heyford Gardening Club – November 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

One of the perils of being a disorganised gardener is the tendency to buy plants on impulse without little or no consideration of what to do with them. The aftermath of a visit to a nursery usually results in wandering round the garden with a plant and trowel in hand wondering where to plant this new acquisition. Having crammed it into a tiny space in the border that is often the last that is seen of the poor thing until the next year when the label is found in among the foliage.

Sometimes though a plant manages to survive this treatment; during the early summer last year some shoots were spotted in the border. Since it looked suspiciously like willow herb it was about to be removed, when something about it stayed my hand. The shoot grew and eventually produced a spire of purple flowers. What we had was a variety of Lythrum (purple loosestrife) and an excellent elegant, long flowering plant it has turned out to be. But where and when did we buy it, and which variety is it?

Sometimes disregarding the normal advice can produce unexpected benefits. We were given some seeds of Morning Glory and Black Eyed Susan long after the conventional time for sowing, but I sowed them anyway, and the result has been a fantastic late show of flower. A lesson for the future perhaps, nothing ventured nothing gained?

Autumn is the time when toadstools and mushrooms sprout in dark corners of the garden. This year a group of small fungi of a striking shade of lilac mauve have popped up under one of our shrubs. Apparently these are an edible variety, but they don’t really look like something one should eat, so I shall leave them to the slugs and snails.

As I write, outside the window there is a plant of white flowered honesty which is still blooming six months after it started in the spring; I have never seen anything like that before. It will be interesting to see when it does eventually stop.

Things to do in November
1. Plant tulip bulbs
2. Put grease bands round fruit trees against winter moth
3. Plant bare root trees shrubs and roses
4. Lift and store dahlia and other tender tuberous perennials.

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – October 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Growing Your Own
Saving seeds from the plants in your garden (or other peoples’ gardens if you have permission) can be a good, and cheap, way to fill the garden with veg and flowers. This year as we couldn’t get to garden centres to buy plants or seeds it became essential to use our own collected seed from last year which included cosmos, morning glories, evening primroses, violas, nicotiana and sweet williams. In the past I have saved seed from a particularly interesting tomato variety that we had from the greengrocer and for several years we had crops of deep purple small tomatoes from these, just keeping a few seeds from the crop each year, until eventually I forgot to do it.

The results can sometimes be surprising though; last year I saved seeds from our squashes, one of which was round and green, the other a red pointed variety. This year not only did I have some of each of those but also one which was grey skinned: where did that come from?

Saving the seed needs careful timing, often once it is ripe it is quickly shed. A good method is to gather the stems with ripening pods and put them in a paper bag and hang the bag up somewhere dry so the seed drops into the bag. Fleshy fruits like tomatoes can have the seed squeezed out, rinsed and dried on some paper towel. Once you have separated the seeds they can be put into carefully labelled paper envelopes and kept somewhere cool and dry until time for sowing.

A couple of notes of caution though; if you save the seed from varieties which are labelled as F1, the resulting plants may not resemble the parent generation, and supermarket produce is often from varieties that may not be ideally suited to outdoor cultivation in Britain (but may still be worth a try as long as you aren’t too optimistic).

Things to do in October
1. Continue planting spring bulbs
2. Divide and replant overgrown hardy perennials
3. Collect fallen leaves to make leaf mould
4. Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs and fruit bushes

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Community Wildlife Area – October 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

The late summer has become a quieter period on the wildlife patch with fewer butterflies about other than the ubiquitous small and large whites. The recent warm dry weather may bring a late emergence of several species, red admirals, tortoiseshells, and peacocks in particular, and also a few small coppers perhaps.

We have cut down the spent flowers and other vegetation on the meadow patches. The dead stems were left for a few days to release their seeds then raked off to avoid increasing the fertility of the area which would encourage coarse grasses and weeds. We shall plant a few native perennials in these areas to reinforce those in the seed mix we sowed in the autumn.

Dragonflies
I mentioned last month that dragonflies had been seen laying eggs in the pond. Since then we have spotted little groups of the dragonfly nymphs stalking about at the pond bottom. So far those seen were nymphs of the emperor which are identifiable by their large size and long narrow shape.

Ivy Bees
A recent surprise was the discovery of a large colony of ivy bees on a nearby allotment patch. These are a species of solitary bee which dig burrows in loose sandy soil, and apparently rather like allotments. They aren’t disturbed by the allotment holders’ cultivation and luckily they are stingless. Although classed as solitary bees they appear to like making their burrows in close proximity to each other producing large groups. They are notable for only being active in the autumn, unlike most other species of bee, as they prefer to stock their burrows with ivy pollen, which only flowers at this time of year. Ivy bees are a recent arrival in this country from the continent and are gradually moving across the country.

Mark Newstead

Heyford Gardening Club – September 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further Notice.

The year so far
Every year is different but this year has been more different than most. Following on from the conditions I have mentioned before, at the time of writing we have had a heat wave the like of which has not been seen for decades. The garden has stood up surprisingly well to all this, though I must remember next year not to have so many plants in pots to water.

The strange weather has caused some odd behaviour too, an honesty plant grew to 2m in height and still has flowers in mid August. Wild strawberries which really are a weed in the garden have actually produced a usable crop of fruit this year, which don’t seem to appeal to our resident blackbirds. These strawberries have also turned out to be an answer to a problem we had. We have an area of dry shade under some trees which is planted with bulbs and other spring flowers and looked wonderful until June after which it became bare and unsightly. Now ivy and strawberries have covered the ground and are keeping it looking green.

The roses and clematis have been particularly good this summer, and we have been pleased with some knapweed plants that we introduced that have flowered for weeks on end and attracted a vast number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. One type of bee we have seen a lot of this year is the leaf cutter. These have a more qualified welcome as they remove neat sections from rose leaves to line their nests, always choosing the most precious varieties. The community orchard looked as if it might produce a small crop this year enough for a tasting at least, but none of the pears set in the end and sadly most of the apples eventually dropped, probably due to the spring drought. The only tree to bear anything at all is our damson, and these look to be ripening very early. However as the trees mature they should become more resilient to the vicissitudes of the climate, we shouldn’t expect too much from them at this early stage.

Things to do in September
1. Start planting spring bulbs
2. Collect seed from annuals and perennials to sow later
3. Sow seed of hardy annuals and hardy veg for early flower and crops next year

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Community Wildlife Area – September 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

Our second summer on the wildlife area has been interesting. The hedge plants that were put in in the autumn have survived the dry spring and summer and are growing well. The seeding of the meadow area was less successful as the winter was so mild there wasn’t enough cold weather to promote strong germination of the wild flowers. Hopefully another winter may help. The corn flower annuals did much better and made a colourful show as well as being a resource for the bees and butterflies.

The pond initially filled with life; newts, frogs various beetles and other aquatic insects soon moved in. However after the drought in April things seemed to go a bit flat. We had to constantly top up with tap water and maybe this didn’t suit the pond life. However recent heavy showers have brought the water level back up and it seems much livelier again. Interestingly I noticed a large tadpole swimming around in August, long after most have already turned into frogs and left the pond.

Dragonflies
The pond has proved a great draw for dragonflies. At least four different species have been seen. In the early summer there were broad bodied chasers, the males of which are light blue. Then we saw four spot chasers, which are more sober coloured. Later on an emperor dragonfly turned up, and we were excited to see that this was a rare variety where the female is blue like the male instead of green. However she still has a green head and eyes. Now in late summer there are common darters there, a smaller species where the males are red. All these different species have laid eggs in the pond and it was fascinating to see the different methods of egg laying. The emperor perches on a plant stem and carefully places its eggs well below the water surface, whereas the chasers just place them onto weeds on the surface only briefly coming to rest. The darter just flicks its eggs onto the surface as it flies across above the water.

The larvae (nymphs) of the dragonflies will now be in the pond for a year or two before emerging as adults. During this time they will be fierce predators and will eat any of the other pond life, including no doubt each other!

Butterflies
We have clearly now got healthy colonies of several species of butterfly; the tortoiseshells are breeding on the nettles. The grass areas are being used by ringlets, meadow browns, skippers and gatekeepers, there are common blues on the medick and clover, and small coppers on sorrel and dock. This year however there have so far been no painted ladies despite our leaving some thistles for them.

Mark Newstead

Heyford Gardening Club – July & August 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Weather
I may have mentioned the weather in previous articles, but it has been extreme this year. At time of writing after weeks with no rain we have had some heavy downpours, but the soil still looks parched. There is more rain in the forecast, so we hope this may help refresh our gardens as I for one am tired of lugging watering cans around and summer has hardly started.

The dry spring has had its benefits though, I have had very little damage from slugs this year, and might even see flowers on my one delphinium! The floral display seems to have been exceptional too, the spring flowers were excellent and long lasting and the summer flowers look to be as good, roses and clematis and various shrubs being laden with flowers. This might be a result of last years dry summer. If we get a bit of rain now we might even have a good crop of soft fruit.

Fruity Disasters
A number of people have told me that they have had a disappointing crop of strawberries this year which is almost certainly due to the frosts which happened just as the plants were flowering. I managed to cover my small bed with some glass, a bit laborious but we have had some strawberries as a result.

We would have had more had we not decided to reorganise some of the strawberry beds in March. Because of the dry spring those plants have mostly shrivelled up now and will have to be discarded. I also planted some raspberries this spring and they too struggled manfully but have now succumbed to the drought. I shall always plant fruit in the autumn in future.

Orange
Looking round our garden I noticed how many orange flowers we have. There are people who won’t have orange in their gardens. Because it is the complementary of green, the colour of most foliage, orange flowers will always assert themselves, but I couldn’t be without poppies and marigolds in our garden (but I do have reservations about orange roses; they don’t look right to me).

This year has proved challenging in other ways too; it has proved difficult getting supplies as garden centres were closed for a while, and recently many have run out of compost. I had to curtail plans to plant up more pots containers, but in view of the watering burden that may have been a sensible move in the end.

Lilies
I have discovered that lilies are one of the easiest plants to grow in pots; they seem able to put up with all sorts of weather, and if you can avoid the lily beetle, don’t suffer from many other pests or diseases. I have 3 pots of regal lilies in the garden at the present time with nearly one hundred buds between them. All they require is regular watering and a fortnightly splash of seaweed fertiliser.

Things to do in July
1. Clear blanket weed from ponds and top up if necessary
2. Look out for clematis wilt
3. Deadhead bedding plants and perennials to keep the display going

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Revitalising the Allotments – July & August 2020

Revitalising the allotments

Sharing

I was pleased to report, in last month’s edition of the Prattler, that allotment holders had been generously sharing their surplus plants with other allotment holders. That has continued throughout June with more and more excess being offered. What a generous group of people we have in our growing community. I am sure that when excess produce is forthcoming later in the season, there will be fruit and veg to hand out too. I won’t even attempt to guess how many oversized courgette’s are likely to appear! An old wheelbarrow now sits proudly in the picnic area and hopefully by the time this article goes to print, there will be a sign attached directing you to place all surplus items there.

It has been encouraging to see more and more villagers making use of the picnic area. It is a tranquil place to sit and while away some time.

We are also encouraging people to visit our community flower patch (clearly signposted) and, if they so wish, help themselves to some cut flowers. Cutting carefully should enable everyone to have a bunch – so bring a pair of scissors or secateurs. Sweet peas benefit especially from regular cutting and will continue to flower all season if that happens. Later in the year we are hopeful that we may have sufficient soft fruit to offer to you as well. Just keep an eye on the notice boards at the entrances to the allotments and on the large shed in the middle of the site.

A spare watering can be found by the sweet pea wigwam, so if you are cutting flowers you might also give the plants in that area a drink. Every little helps.

Links to the past

We were very pleased to accept a donation of old tools from two allotment holders who found them at the back of their parents’ garden shed. They’d once rented an allotment in the village and it was wonderful to think that the tools were “coming home” and again being put to use. If you are a new allotmenteer or just want to make use of some unusual hoes and hand cultivators, let us know. They are stored in the community shed and available to borrow.

If you too have any unwanted garden tools let us know; someone can probably
make good use of them.

Wildlife

One of the joys of working on the allotments is the amount of wildlife you see. Even if we do seem to spend a lot of time and effort protecting crops from greedy pigeons and butterflies anxious to lay their eggs on our tasty greens, the benefits from creating a rich and diverse eco-system far outweigh any small loss of produce. It has been wonderful to see more and more people visiting the allotment wildlife area, created and curated by Dave and Pauline Musson and Mark and Mary Newstead.

An indication of the richness of our eco-system has been the presence of more frogs, toads and hedgehogs on the allotment. They are beneficial visitors to allotments and gardens, hoovering up large quantities of slugs and snails. A note of caution however: try to avoid using larger gauge netting to protect crops as it can snag and trap hedgehogs. One conscientious allotment holder recently spent an hour disentangling one of our prickly friends from a piece of netting before taking him off to the vet! I am pleased to report that the hedgehog made a full recovery and when set free, limped off across the allotment site to find more slimy treats for dinner.

Equipment
A range of equipment is available for allotment holders to borrow when working on the allotment site; this includes mowers, rotavators, wheelbarrows, brooms and watering cans. Many people will own some or all of the above, but for those who wish to get access to such equipment, please contact Bill Corner (sue.corner@sky.com 01327 342124), Lynda Eales (01327 341707) or Mike Langrish langrish_heyford@hotmail.com 01327341390). We can ensure that you get the equipment you require at a mutually convenient time.

Allotment Holders
If you are considering growing your own fruit and veg, act quickly by contacting Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

Mike Langrish 

I believe in the life enhancing virtues of
pure earth, clean air and blue sky.
Octavia Hill – founder of the National Trust

Heyford Gardening Club – June 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Spring (continued)
The weather has gone from unusual to downright weird; April has been the driest for decades, and one week after the hottest April day on record we had sharp frosts killing off all the tender vegetables that unwary gardeners had planted out having been misled by the warm sunshine. Northamptonshire has a particularly difficult climate for gardening, being so far from the sea it heats up and cools down very quickly producing frequent late spring frosts which can be quite severe, even in the beginning of June. I had to cover my strawberries with glass overnight as they were in full flower, but the glass had to be removed promptly the next morning or the bright sunshine would have boiled the plants alive.

Speaking of weather, I have got the impression that in recent years the amount of wind we get has increased considerably. Wind is (or was) something expected in the autumn winter and early spring, but otherwise only during storms. We now seem to have strong winds blowing frequently during warm weather making the soil even drier. It makes sense therefore for gardens to have some sort of windbreak; hedges and shrubs being better than solid fences and walls because they slow the wind down where solid features cause turbulent air in their lee.

Rhubarb
The weather has had a peculiar effect on our rhubarb, normally the easiest of vegetables/fruit to grow. In February and March it was producing the best crop I can remember, but since the cold wind we had in early April the pickings have been meagre to say the least. I have only managed enough for two jars of jam and a few desserts.

Don’t do this at home…
I recently read about the benefits of biochar, which is finely divided charcoal, as a soil conditioner. Apparently this can provide a source of fertility particularly for light soils. Not wanting to pay out large sums of money for the commercial product I decided to make my own from lumpwood barbecue charcoal. This turned out to be a bad idea; charcoal lumps are surprisingly difficult to break down and produce large quantities of fine dust which gets everywhere so a dust mask is essential. After a couple of hours of hard labour I looked like a coal miner after a shift down the pit. After all that I hope that this stuff lives up to its billing!

Runner beans
Whilst preparing an area on the allotment for planting recently I came across a large fleshy root which was producing some healthy green shoots. This wasn’t immediately familiar until I recalled that this was last year’s bean row. Obviously I had left a root in the ground and it had survived the winter. Runner beans are in fact perennial plants and it would be possible to treat them like dahlias and keep the roots over winter to plant out in the spring. But since they are so easy to grow from seed it’s hardly worth the effort.

Things to do in June
1. Prune early flowering shrubs
2. Plant out tender bedding plants and vegetables
3. Stake tall plants against wind.

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – May 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Spring
This has been a strange spring as normally we would be busy going to garden centres and nurseries for plants and materials, and visiting various gardens for ideas or just pleasure, but this year, like everybody else we have been confined to our own patch. Some compensation has been derived from the fact that the display of flowers this spring has been particularly good and with little rough weather it has lasted for weeks. Our garden is also tidier than it has been for many years as we’ve had few other diversions.

Unsprouting broccoli
In the past I sometimes had a broccoli plant that failed to produce sprouts in the spring but went on to grow for a further year before performing as it should. This year however the whole row are looking stubbornly unproductive. I wonder if this is due to the mild winter not giving the clue to start bud formation?

A rose by many other names
After nearly sixty years of gardening I am still amazed at how much I still have to learn. A couple of years ago we visited the Chelsea Physic Garden, and saw a magnificent red flowered rose growing up one of the walls. we took note of the name which was Bengal Crimson. On return home I searched catalogues and reference books but could find no trace of this plant.

Last year during a visit to the nursery at Coton Manor we noticed some plants for sale with the name Bengal Beauty. These had the same large red flowers but the description on the label said it grew to three feet (one metre)whereas the specimen at Chelsea was at least five metres high. Was it the same variety? When we walked a little further we found the same rose growing against a wall where it was considerably taller than me.

Further research has revealed that this rose can be found labelled as Rosa sanguinea, Bengal Rose, and Rosa odorata as well as the names noted above. In each case the description is of a small bush. It is a china rose and these by nature can produce flowers in almost any month, our plant even though small had produced flowers right until November, and then started again in March. The flowers are possibly not to everyone’s taste though, as they are single and rather floppy looking.

The moral of this story is that you can’t always rely on the descriptions of plants in books or catalogues, a lot depends on where and how they are grown.

Honey Fungus
A part of our garden is infested with honey fungus, and from time to time another plant succumbs to the infection. Recently we noticed that a climbing rose has begun to look rather peaky and we are afraid we may lose it. All will not be lost however as this plant is one of those that roots when the tips of the shoots touch the ground and so we have some new plants in parts of the garden unaffected by the fungus. Some plants do seem to be immune to infection, hazels, damsons, holly and an osmanthus shrub all still appear quite healthy as are all the herbaceous plants and bulbs.

The advice for dealing with honey fungus is to remove all plants and soil from the affected area and bring in new topsoil. As this would be impractical we shall have to learn to live with the problem. Obviously it would not be a good area to plant anything expensive or precious.

Lemon verbena
We have a venerable plant of lemon verbena grown in a tub. This as well as looking good supplies us with lemon flavoured leaves for use in drinks and salads etc. These plants are not totally winter hardy but just need shelter from the worst of the weather. It is easy to take cuttings but I discovered that these would be killed by cold in the winter even though the main plant was unaffected. So if you buy a small plant of lemon verbena from a nursery in would be wise to keep it in a frost free place during the first winter.

Things to do in May
1. Divide clumps of spring bulbs
2. Check for bird’s nests before cutting hedges
3. take softwood cuttings of shrubs and herbaceous plants.

Mark Newstead

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www.heyfordgardenclub.com

For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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