This week allotments across the country are throwing open their gates to let people come in and have a nosey.
Sadly, ours isn’t, perhaps tainted by the ‘great allotment scandal’ of last summer when there was a rhubarb thief in our midst, who later took a liking to carrots.
But as I watch people celebrating what their space means to them, it’s made my think about how our allotment is more than just a patch of land we tend to. For me, it’s a way of life.
Last week I interviewed someone at work completely unrelated to gardening. However it transpired he had an allotment and that was it. Knowing nothing else about him, I knew we wouldn’t be stuck for conversation.
“Oh yes, I’ve spent hours watering this summer. The squash have thrived, and yes, I’ve also lost salads which have bolted. Wasn’t it a hard year for peas. Oh and don’t get me started on the wasps. Or slugs.”
There you had it. An unspoken connection. A fascination in the outside world and a mutual respect for the commitment tending a plot requires.
I’d wanted an allotment for as long as I could remember. When I moved to the big smoke in my early 20s I used to dream of weekends spent digging (this was before I knew about no dig) wearing wellies you couldn’t get away with in the city.
The reality is far more consuming than I’d ever imagined.
Yes, I want to know where my food comes from. I want to know how it’s been grown (organically please) and that it hasn’t flown halfway around the world to land on my plate. I want to grow varieties I can’t try in your average supermarket. I want mouthwatering potatoes, the sweetest sweetcorn and my very own raspberry buffet bar.
I know what you’re thinking – wow she wants a lot. But I like to think I’m a giver too. I try to plant for wildlife, because you can’t not be outside in all seasons and ignore mother nature. You notice when the blackberries ripen early and when the autumn raspberries are fruiting in June, and start to think about what the birds will do when autumn really is here.
You become part of an invaluable network up and down the country. A community of incredible gardeners who just want to help each other out and make spaces green. You meet inspiring people who set up community gardening projects to help those who would benefit most from discovering their green fingers.
The positive benefits of gardening on mental health are immeasurable. While I love social media I was fortunate enough to grow up without it, and I’m very aware that we’re only just seeing the impact that growing up surrounded by technology brings.
In truth, I’m a terrible worrier. I check my work emails constantly. Or at least, I did. I used to feel frustrated when I hadn’t achieved something – until I started to find pleasure in a simpler, slower way of life. I’ve said before how I believe keeping chickens has a similar mental effect, but essentially you can’t rush an allotment.
Plants take a certain amount of time to grow. They can challenge and frustrate you. But nothing beats the feeling when you tried to grow something, and it only bloody worked.
Sometimes you just can’t control the outcome. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. Sometimes you need to just switch off. To head down to the plot with a thermos flask of tea and to not speak to anyone for a few hours.
Essentially what I’m trying to say is growing your own is fantastic. I’m so incredibly proud of our allotment I could bore you silly (if you’re still reading this that is). But you can grow anywhere. In the smallest space. Plant some herbs on a balcony box – the bees will still find it. Grow some tumbling tomatoes down a shed door. Let’s make those little grey corners of gardens have something to shout about.
So if you’re considering trying gardening, please do. If you’ve been considering putting your name on an allotment list, make that leap.
Gardening is cool now, if you haven’t heard. And it might well be the best thing you do.
Happy National Allotment Week.