In 20 years I’ve had three goes at keeping an allotment, none of which lasted more than a year or two; but there’s more time now; time to appreciate how Rome not being built in a day was probably due to the weeding taking longer than expected. Perhaps Lockdown delivered a different perspective, or one’s perception of time changes with age but I’ve come to realise this pass time’s more marathon than sprint.
Taking on a neglected patch raised the question of how best to bring the ground back to cultivation. From a previous attempt, my youngest had turned me on to Charles Dowding’s “No-Dig” method, where instead of turning a sod, you plant through a layer of mulch laid on top of cardboard, the idea being to weaken the weeds by starving them of sunlight and for the worms to work the fibrous matter back down into the soil below. But without copious amounts of cardboard the idea evolved so that during February a cubic metre of spent mushroom compost was spread over the wild ground and covered with Mypex membrane. Subsequently, when a bed or row was ready to plant, it was easy to roll up a sheet to reveal relatively weed-free soil.
Allotmenteers are a diverse bunch who are at once both strangers and comrades. There is community here: the annual flush of newbs with their enthusiasm and BnQ booty, the old hands, the regulars, the occasionals, the elusives, the fertilisers and pesticiders, the organics, no-diggers, bed raisers and row planters. There’s no shortage of advice and the occasional share of a raspberry cane or two and a bucket of home rotted compost; wood-chips, cold beer, and freshly dug new potatoes are exports. There’s also pleasure in sitting peacefully of an evening watching the pigeons covet the crops from the safety of their rooftops as the local kittys patrol below.
The gardens are a place of diversity and creativity where everyone contributes to the great sum of collective knowledge. There’s much to learn amidst not much consensus. In this time of war and food inflation, of insecurity, prime ministerial piss taking, face masks, monkey pox and jubilee, it’s reassuring to be surrounded by life on the verge of Summer .
The jubilee bank holiday weekend I’d planned to take an off-road bike trail riding in Wales, but an unfortunate encounter with a nervous horse rider prompted an over zealous grab on the brake and left me with a sore leg and egg on my face. So instead it’ll be the town’s annual plant sale and another go at runner beans.
103 years of the allotments, 70 years on the throne, 2 billion years of plants, 58 years of growth –
countless scales and perspectives.