Friday, 24 April 2009

Allotment, wossat then?

The derelict allotment, June 2004
- what it looked like when I first took it over

I should have realised that not everyone would be familiar with the term 'allotment' and how it differs from 'garden' or 'yard'. So for those of you who are interested (Susan!) here's a link that should explain all.

In my case, the allotment is only about 5 minutes' walk downhill from my house, and a lot longer than that on the way back if you're carrying leeks and potatoes up the rather steep slope. It's one of about 16 plots, some divided in two, and is beautifully situated beside the little river Ouseburn that separates it from Jesmond Dene. It's surrounded by a fence and huge trees, and feels quite remote from the city centre only 20 minutes' walk away. The site doesn't have piped water, as many other sites do, and very dry summers have us struggling up and down the riverbank filling buckets to top up our numerous barrels; finding little fish in your barrel is not unknown. Vandalism and high winds have disposed of most of our fencing and gates, and the greenhouses and sheds are somewhat eccentric in design, but the general ramshackle look of the whole site is reassuring to those of us incapable of producing manicured and tidy gardens.

We are a mixed bunch on the site; there are the old timers, long-retired men, great gardeners with weed-free beds filled with orderly rows of good old-fashioned basics, and who talk tough about rabbit snares and rat poison, but are really bluffing. There are couples who like regimented flowers and mulched paths, builder types who construct sheds and sitting-out areas from proper salvaged building materials, arty types who grow dye-producing plants and have a blithe and carefree approach to weeding, and some people who are entirely invisible and constantly at risk of getting A Letter warning them that they will lose their plot if they don't do some work on it. A Letter usually produces a flurry of activity for about a week, and the neglected plot relapses into its life of bramble and dandelion abandon. There are rules: at least two-thirds of each plot should be under cultivation; dogs should be tied up. I ignore both, and no one complains. The dog has her friends down there, and likes to visit.

And then there's us, Sandra and I, sporadic enthusiasts, muddling along, full of good ideas, sometimes trying our hand at something a bit different (it's soya beans this year) and fighting a losing battle with couch grass and creeping buttercup. I took the plot
almost 5 years ago after my mother died, when I suddenly had spare time after work, and I found it therapeutic to be down there on a warm windless evening, creating something from what was really a neglected and overgrown rubbish site. After a year or so, and much pressure being placed on the City Council's Allotments Officer, the mounds of rubbish and derelict shacks were removed - by digger and three lorries, which gives you some idea of just how dreadful this plot had become - I was joined by neighbour Sandra, who knew nothing at all about gardening, but liked the physical labouring; since then, her knowledge and confidence have grown apace, and she also has useful and strapping great sons who can sometimes be bribed to fetch water or shovel the manure which appears at the site gate without warning from a local stable.

We pay an annual rent - now that I have retired, mine is the princely sum of £27.25. We dream of piped water, at least in theory - a friend of mine reports from another site that exorbitant water rates and greedy use of the standpipe by some plot holders has resulted in all-out warfare and (oh, scandalous!) poison pen letters being pinned to sheds. But really, we like it the way it is, homely, a bit scruffy, friendly and generous, full of birds and butterflies, nettles and weeds, everyone knowing each other by first name, and we don't care very much if it stays that way and escapes the creeping gentrification of allotments elsewhere in the city.


Susan said...

Fascinating. Thank you. All along I was convinced that you were speaking about your own back garden. What a great way to use urban-ish space.

I continue to LOVE your writing style.

Cheers from me & les Gang

PG said...

Oh my, I have a memory of walking past allotments in this area, with a little river, from the Dene, on our way back to Andy's room, above an off license where we lived. To think, all that before the internet and blogs, etc. There is a definite 'allotment look', and I for one love it!

Thursday said...

Sounds like it's just as it should be.

rogern said...

I'm not sure whether I get a mention in your allotment archetypes, I can't seem to recognise myself at all! ;)

A lovely description btw.

Marie said...

I'm reading all your allotment posts :-)Wonderful. Quite apart from the entertainment factor, they are very helpful to use as a comparison for the way we do community gardening in NYC...

Any way to make the font a teeny weeny bit bigger? Terribly presumptuous of me as I've only just arrived and you are the Owner...

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