In praise of the humble allotment
Written by Dunc
In these days of soaring
house prices and land speculation, of globalization and high rise
living, it is all too easy to despair at the availability of fresh
vegetables or a place to grow your own. To those of us who are fed up
with tasteless tomatoes and limp lettuce it can sometimes seem like a
losing battle. But even in the year 2004 there is still a beacon of
slightly earthy hope. The humble allotment.
Firstly, I must confess that I am not a veteran gardener or
allotment holder. In fact at the time of writing I have been the proud
tenant of plot 23, Cemetery allotments for just over two months.
Obviously, I have not had a chance to even taste the first fruit or veg
from the plot yet, though I have my eye on the rhubarb left by a
previous tenant. I'm not discouraged though, if you'll forgive
the pun these two months have not been entirely fruitless.
the first moment my wife and I called in to view the allotment, we were
amazed at how welcoming and friendly everyone was. When the secretary
showed me around the plot, he obviously didn't see 40 feet by 15 feet
of barren earth, populated only by a few struggling rhubarb plants and
a half-built greenhouse frame. He saw the finished greenhouse, one
which would be finished with the help of the other allotment holders,
he saw a plot filled with fresh plants and fruit bushes, to be helped
along with seedlings and cuttings from his own plot. His enthusiasm was
infectious and as he introduced me to a few of the other plot holders,
I realized he was not alone. This was a small community who really were
working together to a common goal.
By my second week on the
plot I had received donations of a door for the greenhouse, enough
timber to complete the frame and a reminder that membership of the
allotment society entitled me to a discount at a local builder's
merchants where I could get the rest of my materials. By the time
the frame was finished I had volunteers to help with covering the
structure, and the offer of more seedlings to give me a head start when
the time was right. More recently I have been digging over the plot,
planting raspberry canes and
gooseberry bushes. I could not
believe the satisfaction to be gained not just from a few hours digging
in the spring sunshine but from the approving nod and "good work" I
received from one of the plot veterans.
In 1998 a parliamentary
report considered the merits of allotments, and their praise was high
indeed. Apart from the obvious benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables,
the report referred to the health benefits of exercise in tending an
allotment and the sense of community fostered around the plot. The
report stated that an allotment enabled people from many different
backgrounds and races to come together with a common purpose. There are
environmental benefits too, from the "green lung" effect of the plants
and trees to the recycling culture which is fundamental to allotment
I warn you now, allotments would appear to be addictive.
I no longer daydream about a lazy afternoon in the pub or the previous
weekend's football. I catch myself planning the next row of spinach, or
wondering how the chilli seedlings are coping. Some of the best plots
on the site are occupied by people with only a few years experience of
gardening, and there is good sport to be had in arguing the merits of
different approaches. We're all looking forward to seeing the result of
an ambitious "pile o' spuds" made from a stack of used tires.
allotment is a grand tradition in British life, and the waiting lists
with some councils are testament to its enduring popularity. It is a
chance for so many people to have a go, to get their hands dirty in an
enjoyable effort to produce at least a small part of their own food
requirements. In the process they will be able to enjoy fresh air,
exercise, good company and still help the environment. They will be
able to look forward to the freshest strawberries in summer, and the
plumpest pumpkins in autumn. I am delighted to be one of those people
and I'm off now to check on that rhubarb.
The autumn update.
the autumn storms rattle the windows and the frost lies in wait around
the next corner, I have time to reflect on my first year as a
plot-holder on the cemetery allotments. I can honestly say that my
first growing season has been everything I could have hoped for. The
frustrations have been outweighed by the successes, the irritations
pale into insignificance next to the enjoyment.
I have been
delighted to find that when I plant things, they will grow. Not every
time, but at least the fears that I would be a complete failure have
been pushed aside by bumper crops of potatoes, tomatoes, chillis,
spinach and rasberries. I have not had to buy potatoes or onions in
months, and I am enjoying a solid crop of leeks throughout the current
months (and expect to keep harvesting through to Christmas).
promised assistance with the greenhouse arrived, when required, and it
was this which housed the tomatoes. When I lost the door to the October
storms last week, it was one of my new found friends who shored it up
until I was able to make a new door. The fabled "pile o' spuds" was not
a great success, indeed my own crop inspired some jealousy, blessed as
I was by beginners luck.
Once again, I cannot recommend an
allotment strongly enough. Taken in isolation it can offer so much, and
as a first step towards independence of food production it can provide