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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 13 August 2011

In the news...

It's been one big party at the nation's allotments this week – National Allotments Week is our annual chance to celebrate having a patch of land to grow your own. It's also a time for taking stock of this very British institution.

allotment

The latest allotment waiting list figures, compiled for the NSALG, aren't all gloom and doom: a mere 86,787 people are currently hoping for keys to the allotment gate, which at least is fewer than last year (around 100,000). That's still an average of 57 people waiting for every 100 plots. Read the full report here.

There are regional variations: in Wales the figure hasn't changed, and even the local chair of the NSALG has had to wait five years. But better news: one Gateshead allotment association was given nearly £30,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to rediscover the north-east's rich allotment history.

As if we didn't know it already: the spring of 2011 officially came earlier than any in living memory. A Woodland Trust survey found flowering, fruiting and the emergence of key species happened sooner this year than, in some cases, since records began in 1891.

Horse chestnuts, lilacs and dog roses flowered earlier, and six species of migrant birds arrived before they ever had, while 11 of the 13 tree species surveyed leafed up sooner than since at least 2000. To find out what effect that has on autumn, get involved with the next survey via Nature's Calendar.

Elsewhere on the web...

While we're on the subject: visiting allotments, during Allotments Week or under the National Gardens Scheme (adding more allotment sites to its gardens open for charity every year), is instant inspiration. Emma Cooper went to one of the country's finest, the Model Allotment at Garden Organic's Ryton Gardens near Coventry, showing us all how it should be done.

Meanwhile Janet at Plantaliscious tells it how it really is (caterpillars 'n' all) over at her plot; and you can help VP, facing the tough decision to give up half her plot, decide which half to keep.

This week's good read is Country Life editor Clive Aslet's eye-opening roundup of alternative approaches to garden pests, in which he reveals that BBC Radio 4's Today Programme is his fox deterrent of choice.

And a good listen: Questions, Questions, on BBC Radio 4, got lost. In the maze at Glendurgan Garden in Cornwall, to be precise: Stewart Henderson's exploration (3m 15s in) of these hedge-tastic enigmas, in answer to the question 'what are mazes for?' was a delight.

Out and about...

Like visiting gardens? How about visiting five, or ten, or fifteen at once? On the same day?

It's peak season for village garden open days, a good excuse for spending a sunny Sunday nosing around neighbouring gardens in the same village. Three villages throwing open the garden gates tomorrow: ten gardens in Cardington in the Shropshire Marches include tiny cottage gardens and a ten-acre conservation garden; Little Urswick, in Cumbria, offers two very different gardens and a traditional village green; and the village of Barr, in Ayrshire, includes a 'barrel garden' created by the local primary school.

Dahlia lovers are in for a treat as the month-long Dahlia Festival begins at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, filling house and garden with spectacular flowers. Next Saturday dahlias also take centre stage at Sarah Raven's place in Perch Hill, East Sussex, with demonstrations and Sarah's flower- and veg-packed gardens to explore.

And don't miss the Southport Flower Show on Merseyside, starting next weekend. With a 'vintage' theme, BBC Radio Merseyside, and gardening wisdom from Matthew Wilson, Geoff Stebbings and Tony Kirkham among others, it should be a cracker.

Sally Nex is a garden writer and blogger and part of the BBC Gardening team.

Read Sally Nex's Gardening Blog posts.

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