Tuesday, 17 August 2010

I love allotments, me!

New Ground, Old Stories and Timeless Pleasures.

It is quite a busy time if you garden in the United Kingdom right now. We can look at the wonderful collections of plants from all over the world and wonder at the Rhododendrons of the Himalayas, the Orchids of the Amazon jungle, the glorious Asiatic Lilies and the Gigantic swaying Bamboos of China. Alternatively, we can find many if not all of these in a single garden in our own country.

We enjoy one of the most diverse and varied climates in the world, ranging from sub zero snow falls in winter to droughts and heat waves in summer. We can complain about flooding and freezing in autumn and even in late spring but we are blessed with such a wide spectrum of conditions when many countries barely have a few degrees variation over a year, resulting in a limited range of native plant species. The very temperate climate here means most plant conditions can be met with a little help and coaxing. We have, over history, gather collections of plants from every corner of the globe. The Victorians were renowned for their plant collections, with the wealthy and curious sending men out to find new specimens on expeditions that could take several years, even decades.

How do you know if a plant you have or like was one of those brought back from afar by a man in tweed and a back pack?

Brush up your Latin and look at the name of the plant. If it ends or begins with something that sounds or looks like a surname, it has probably been named either after its finder or the sponsor of the expedition.

Fortune, Forrest, Ward, Dickson and Fuchs all gave names to either plants or varieties of plants and there were many more.

If you want to start exploring new grounds, maybe a visit to the council offices should be on your list of destinations now that a new batch of allotment plots have been released at a site on the Bournville Estate. New allotments are harder to come by than low maintenance planting schemes that look interesting so I’m sure those new virgin plots won’t be unclaimed for long.

I love allotments.

It’s a short but sincere statement that comes from a deep place. When I was young, growing up in Weston, my parents had a house which backed on to the railway line. At that time, diesel fumes were considered more of a threat to greenfly that small children and asthma was a rarity but things may have changed since. Anyway, my father had a large stretch of land beside the railway line which was rented from the Railway Company, then British Rail. The days spent picking runner beans or peas or just playing while my father did his little jobs were some of my fondest memories. He had also tended a plot near the railway station itself, before the land was utilised for building. The line side plot meant it was close enough to home to pop out for five minutes or disappear for hours, depending on your schedule. That early experience with makeshift frames and saved string instilled in me a longing for a space to grow things, a place to go where I was master of all I surveyed. I went through the dark times, when school was my main interest and a certain young girl a major distraction, but after the girl became my wife and we moved into our first home, my immediate plans were not to decorate or fill the flat with new furniture but to dig up the patchy lawn and start sowing seeds. I sowed vegetable seeds, peas, onions and carrots. A few rows of potatoes too. We filled the border and rock garden with flowers but many of those were for cutting and placing in vases throughout the flat too.

The shed came with the flat and was out of bounds, being used by the landlord but I was happy with my little share of land.

It is that pride in producing something for the kitchen or the home, that self taught ability to string together some lengths of bamboo into a frame for runner beans to climb up, the feeling I still get when I pull up a gnarly, dirty beetroot or pop open a fresh green pea pod and count the peas inside that still puts a grin across my face when I find a few hours to spare to spend at my plot, or at a friend or new acquaintances plot. It is why I like to walk through our site, looking at the varied and plentiful crops others have lovingly tended. It is why I am always cheered to receive a text picture from my young nephews showing me the carrots or tomatoes they have grown and why I always try to have time to talk to complete strangers of any age and social background on our mutual subject of gardening.

If you don’t rent an allotment or have a small patch of land in the garden, give it a try. It’s not that far from growing flowers, most crops are annual and seed is relatively cheap even in a recession.

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