The Brook Community Gardens, Nelson, New Zealand. Finding our next off the plot living-learning journey. Part 1.

So, it has begun once again. We’re up to our old tricks again. This time it was brought about by an unscheduled rental move to Brook Street, commonly known to those living at the top of it, where we live, “Scott Base”. This is probably due to the comparatively harsh weather the residents’ experience as to other parts of Nelson. It is peaceful, quiet, clean and green. Multiple tramping walks abound yards from our doorstep with a sanctuary akin to Jurassic Park obvious to see. The access and control to it are strictly maintained. The surrounding area is also a mountain bikers paradise and is rigged to support active pastimes and healthy pursuits.

Looking beyond our plot

We saw the gardens during a cycle, paying it a visit quite by chance. Deep into her plot, a friendly resident gardener gave us a guided tour and the information we needed to touch base with the community garden leader. This we did, and soon, we were inducted into the community ethos with others after being allotted a small patch. Where we lived before the Brook Street move, we extended a raised bed area, especially during the uncertainty of the initial COVID lockdown when we had time on our hands to do so and not much else. So, we weren’t exactly new to this process, having allotments for several years back in the UK. This you see if you read back through this plog. However, we decided to do the contrary in this situation, Toni and I both decided to plant a variety of soft fruit in plot 20.

Toni doing the math

After clearing the small patch, we went to buy gooseberry, red and blackcurrant bushes, raspberry canes and blueberry plants. Rhubarb was also purchased a little prematurely after discovering much growing “native” in the surrounding area from previous disused and overgrown plots. We erected the supporting framework our raspberries would require when they matured. Being more analytical than me, Toni found the research material easy to source and off to the shops we went. Within a few hours, the stakes and wiring were in place, and the plants dug in. We are very aware of the open nature of the Brook Community Garden, and many people pass by or visit out of interest or curiosity. We are also plagued by those who thieve produce and materials. There seems not much we can do about this except make their intentions hard work. This we will plan with the netting that will need to go over the plot soon.

Evolving garden scape

Being part of a community is, I suppose, the main intention of this project of ours. We lack a tribe that we can relate to and be a part of. We are both relatively solitary people, probably due to the intense nature of our jobs, but we can see here opportunities to connect and learn from like-minded others. The small plot is one of a dozen or so nearby us on the edge of the garden. The community is also home to like-minded others, composter enthusiasts, beekeepers, chicken lovers and plant growers. We all have a duty of care to the upkeep and maintenance of the garden giving our free time, on occasion, to that cause. We also pay a poultry sum to the community to use the land upon which our fruit and learning grow.

Additional others

So, capping this short post off, we hope to engage with our brothers and sisters, extend our knowledge and dive deeper into this rarified culture called The Brook Community Garden. Part 2 will take us up to the new year where our netting journey begins and maybe even beyond.


Moving over to Aotearoa – Offtheplot in New Zealand

Hello to the readers of our blog “Off the plot.” It’s been well over a year since the last post, written in a cold, wet and wintery Surrey, UK around the moment we decided a move was in order. As you can see from the title page we are now living, once again, in New Zealand. The time between this post and the last one has been an intense and demanding journey of change. We decided to return to New Zealand after staying in the UK for several years where we developed our living philosophy and our first choice was to re-settle in the capital, Wellington. This amazing big village, that’s what it is to us, is alive and abundant to all sorts of off the plot possibilities and reflections so I hope that by reactivating this blog now we are more settled and feel part of this great place we can put you in the front row seat of how we intend to continue our life “off the plot” in New Zealand.

Mark and Toni James

Oyster Mushrooms – Offtheplot – Recipe Options





Oyster Mushrooms are a joy to find, especially when they appear in abundance. I found these this morning on my morning dog walk and stood still for a while just revelling in the awe and majesty of nature and the fruits it freely gives to those with a keen eye and and a little bit of knowledge.

Recipe in a Chinese Style

Recipe in an Italian Style

Recipe in a grilled Style



Oysters are very fragile and break down rapidly too.

Off The Plot – Food for Thought

2012 has been a peculiar year indeed, weird weather, the Summer in Spring, the wettest on record and a feast of some things and famine of (most of the) others. The allotment, foraging and feasting all had their moments and in the best of New Year Traditions looking back at the year that was and, in turn, looking forward to the year to come feeds the imagination.


I began the year looking at Daffodils, no they aren’t edible ( I think!) but they are the first indicator that fungi can be found. Morels, those almost Alien like shrooms appear about the same time. I found only 1 however, dried up and shrivelled but to  the unseasonal heat has to be a factor. St. Georges unusually followed in abundance but the early Chanterelle season was a set back, again due the lack of rain. This also put pay to the early harvest of Porcini too and, in fact, if the truth be known, it was a bad year for them too. Too few also were the Charcoal Burners, Hedgehogs, Bays, Orange and Brown Birch and Blewitts but remarkably I found, by proxy, my first Saffron Milkcap, Alpine Strawberries and Raspberries – delicious they were too. So to next year and the coming crop. Weather permitting back to normal I hope and again, my eyes will be peeled in mid to late February for the Dafs to re appear. The odd truffle wouldn’t go amiss too.


As opposed to foraging where it is an uneven contest between man and nature allotmenteering is more of a struggle of natural and unnatural equals. This year, however, the odds were stacked against us despite preparing and getting in early the potatoes before the frosts ( non-existent in March) reappeared to kill off the burgeoning new shots. Again, our imported Wild Garlic flourishing started the growing season off but like many a good start the fruits of the year disappointed. The Runners, French and Butter Beans, Sweet Corn ( murdered by squirrels) and the Purple Sprouting Broccoli were a let down. Even the pumpkins and courgettes flattered to deceive. All in all, apart from the spuds, the beetroot and cabbages the year was abysmal. So what to do in 2013? The plan is to focus on main crops of spuds and beetroot, attempt the beans and try to get more harvest from cabbages, sprouts and carrots. Onions, Turnips and Sproccoli will be rested.


Although not grown and definitely not free food it plays a very important part in our life as can be witnessed by our extending tummies. The top three places to eat in 2012, in no particular order are:

1. The Three Horseshoes – Powerstock, Dorset. Try the Chateaubriand and even stay over as the accommodation is simple but stunning views are magical. Try looking at the Church across the road too. The graveyard and church internals are well worth seeing.

2. The Crocked Billet, Stoke Row, Newlands Lane, Stoke Row, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 5PU – Now check this place out, difficult to find but well worth it. The kitchen can cook and the food is just amazing and value for money. We will be returning in the new year. Try their Touraine Sauvignon Blanc too.

3. L’enclume, Cartmel, The Lake District. This wasn’t on recommendation but more inspiration as the Chef and Owner, Simon Rogan, did amazingly well on the Great British Menu in 2012. His organic, locally sourced food linked to seasonality really got our juices flowing. A 16 course taster menu and great breakfasts were a dream, a sensual and visual experience and unrepeatable. The wine list was good too, especially the Henri Bourgeois range.

The most overrated, sadly, was The River Cottage Canteen and Farm visits. I think in hindsight we have moved on and attraction of the once loved and cherished place we have now out grown.

Next year, apart from revisiting the first 2, the third is too far away really, we will investigate the two local restaurants of note in or near Woking – Drakes at Ripley and London House in nearby Old Woking. Hopefully a trip to a Ferme Auberge near Avise in Champagne and the wonderful Relais de Sillery, near Mailly, enroute to Sancerre will be a gastronomic distraction from a very long journey there and back.

Off The Plot – Raspberry Sorbet with “Alp”titude!


The Alps – Lindarettes – Morzine at about 1200 metres abovs Sea Level



                                            Alpine Raspberries abound

2 litres of Raspeberries and Bilberries

 Reduced and Strained














Off The Plot – Into The Valley – Egerdon Valley, Dorset

The weekend that was – was in beautiful Dorset. Things were a bit complicated to start with as Toni only arrived from the Hebrides the day before and I had the “mother of all” stressy drives to pick her up from Heathrow. Don’t, I repeat, don’t journey between Cheam and Heathrow via Kingston and Richmond in rush hour. 18 miles of hell… 2 hours of grey hair production, teeth grinding and “John Terry” expletives, non racial of “fucking” course!

Food that evening was “Jimmy Spice” in Staines – Good service – Convenient food – mounded high! Sorry Jimmy but it was underwhelming! And it was our 26th wedding anniversary too. Never mind.

The next day we set off for Dorset, aware that half of it was either underwater or under mud! Thankfully we stopped off at M & S before to do a “little bit of shopping”. A bottle of Schug Sonoma Pinot and Blanc de Noir later we set off again. The traffic on the 303 was bad at the Henge but a delightful American Anthem CD saved the day and my melancholy.

The destination for the Friday evening was “River Cottage HQ”, an eclectic meal date with 82 unknown others in a marquee that was hastily erected when the barn that hosted such things before mysteriously burned down! We had expectations of course, we had been 4 years previously and had a good time. This was not to be repeated sadly. The venue seems a little bereft of authenticity nowadays with the crowd seemingly less than enthusiastic with the pause between starter and main as well as the poultry offering of the “after dinner chocs.” Perhaps that’s a bit hash, it could be that we’ve moved on and expect something better.

American Cray Fish Bisque (liberated from Hampshire rivers)

Oven Smoked Beef Cheeks (with shin sausage)

Gooseberry with Hazelnut Crumble and Elderflower Ice Cream

Fortunately we stayed in the mother of all bed and breakfasts – a gem of a place, called “The Three Horse Shoes Inn” in a quaint picturesque village called Powerstock, slightly north-east of Bridport.

The Three Horse Shoes Inn, Powerstock

The place itself is an old Victorian Pub with accommodation with a genuine feeling of tradition and slow, gentle country living. The church is fascinating, just next door and well worth a visit. It might sound slightly creepy but when I visit old churches I marvel at stain glass windows but the graveyard gets a “visitation” too. At Powerstock Church there are 3 graves that stand out. One is of a family commemorated along with their Son killed in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Next to them is a previous parish Vicar, his Wife and their Daughter who died on “active” service with the Missionary Service in Kenya in 1979 and another, a plain stone with the individual, no rank or history just DFC and DSO.

Back at the pub and its menu, read the picture and think when the last time you saw a menu like it in a place that counts it’s village population in the very low hundreds. We had the beef and waited the appropriate 45 minutes for it to be prepared. We weren’t disappointed in the slightest.

The Menu at the “Shoes”

Bridport, the local market town deserves a visit, especially the antique centre behind Waitrose, and in particular the Red Brick Cafe, eclectic, left field and cherished locally. View the menu and enjoy the moment. The town itself reeks of tradition and personality, agricultural, artisanal and a strong disdain of wealth and the flaunting of it. There is poverty here but also a sense of being in touch with the essentials and simpleness of life. I like it very much indeed.

Toni”sipping” her cider – or is it mine?

Leaving Dorset is hard to do. Not that we ever intend to live there as our plans of far more flung. However, when we need to recharge and break from the old routine here is where we will be found.

Bridport – East to West