My love affair with allotments began on my first train journey from the south coast to London, where, from the window the blending and mingling of backyards and allotments was visible. The signature architecture of sheds, beanpoles and make-do-and-mend structures for keeping birds off the fruit, was imprinted on my mind.
A decade or two later I had my first allotment at Fulham Palace Allotments: here I became the uncrowned ‘tomato queen’ to my neighbour, the ‘onion king’. It was a delightful place to grow veg and flowers and by the time I left London for Suffolk’s country garden and space to grow veg at home, I was ready for grow your own in a big way.
But although it was lovely to grow my own at home with family, what was missing was the genial rivalry, the chit-chat about which varieties were the choice of the moment, small kindnesses mainly related to watering… and so on.
Then I moved from country to town and put my name down for an allotment in Sudbury.
That was five years ago and so, when on April 1 this year, I was told I was at the top of the list… and asked if I still wanted an allotment, there was only one answer: “yes!”. However, the next words that came to mind were: “Is that sensible?”, and no is what some of my friends would say… but I went ahead.
On day 1 it was a glorious expanse of soil as my predecessor had cleared it of weeds. All mine now!
Now it is August and the start of National Allotments Week. I am not sure if our plots are taking part officially, but I am making this my contribution.
My plot is busy now, filled with four rows of asparagus (more about the varieties next year when I may be able to harvest a spear or two), several rows of leeks, a double row of globe artichokes, multi-stemmed sunflowers, two varieties of sweetcorn, celeriac, three bean wigwams, multiple courgette, squash and pumpkin plants, potatoes, inherited chard that sprang from nowhere, soft fruit and the de rigueur allotment plant, rhubarb.
And what of the allotment life? Well, there is the chit-chat and jovial commentary, there is mild envy of the allotmenteers who live near enough to walk to the allotment and strong envy of those whose plot is close to the tap or the horse-trough. Small and large kindnesses are there are as well: the allotment neighbour who watered when I was away for a fortnight; the gardening friends who have given me a few hours here and there to help me overcome the weeds that sprang up once the ground began to warm in spring and one friend in particular who offered me what he called “ brute force and ignorance!” Both are qualities that this bossy allotmenteer particular admires in a strong young person!
And what have I achieved in the five months since I took the plot on? Well, I feel fitter, have disposed of some body weight, enjoyed beans, courgettes, one sweetcorn (so far), potatoes, a cucumber and a bunch of bright and bold sunflowers.
Unwise to have taken it on maybe, but it is fun and productive.