Monday 29 June 2009

little corner of heaven: the guided tour

As some of you, unfamiliar with the allotment tradition, have asked me about it, I thought you might like to see this fabled allotment of mine, so now, thanks to Roger's skill with Google maps and dotted lines, you can.

Picture 1: the serene environs of Bacteria Gardens. Here they are - the dozen or so streets of gardenless terraced houses and student flats, the steep hill rolling away to the little river Ouseburn, and on to glorious Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park,or, by taking a right turn which suddenly plunges you into an open grassy area where no roads or buildings are visible, our allotments. To reach them, we must trudge down this steep hill and along to the gate, and the return trudge after a strenuous digging session is often accompanied by loud puffing and groaning .

Our site, outlined in red, with the vaguest-looking allotments, is positioned next to the pigeon holders' site, with its cluster of crees and sheds. Most of the men in there seem to be named Alan, and the river sometimes bursts its banks at this point and floods the lower half of their site. The whole area used to have its own little village, with two pubs and a church, and much was eventually abandoned because of persistent flooding. One pub remains, recently refurbished so that new customers under the age of 60 and who do not wear flat caps and nicotine stains could be encouraged. The walls and ceiling are no longer brown, and while it is certainly much cleaner and better-lit, it has lost its charm entirely

There is another self-contained group of allotment plots at the top right. The gardeners there have clubbed together to build a gazebo; we don't have anything to do with them, for no known reason, unless, perhaps, we just aren't gazebo people. Maybe we are tumbledown hut people, neo-Neolithic types with low brows who wouldn't know what to do with a gazebo and a glass of chilled white wine.

Picture 2: a closer view. The plot outlined in red near the top is mine, although the picture was taken a couple of years ago, and some derelict cold frames have been removed, to allow the weeds greater freedom. Oddly, my beloved shed is near-invisible, as is any evidence of gardening activity on my part.

The largish polytunnel in the plot above mine is Suspicious Colin's, who builds it himself every year, grows huge leeks in it, which he invariably pronounces a deep disappointment (prize leek growers are rarely satisfied) and then gives up as the winter winds tear his sheets of polythene to ragged shreds that are left to flap forlornly till next Spring. Colin responds to any question, no matter how innocuous, with a shifty and alarmed look and an evasive response. This could be the mark of a chronically guilty conscience, or perhaps I haven't recognised my own unconscious imitation of a copper's nark, but it makes conversation challenging.

Eddie the Poisoner is opposite me, his tidy garden filled with bird feeders heavily vandalised by squirrels, and considering Eddie's state of health, the Grim Reaper hovering at his elbow and breathing hotly down his neck, it may be that the war of wits he wages on those squirrels is what keeps him alive. Not that he poisons anything except weeds, being a great softie with all wildlife, but he talks tough, and frequently encourages me to poison my weeds, hence his nickname. I am very fond of Eddie, and also, to my shame, secretly covet his old 5-tined curved fork specifically designed to dig up potatoes.

Roger's plot is on the opposite side, bottom right, also outlined in red. The end section of his plot is tangled riverbank, and the dog finds that it all smells very interesting down there under the briars, suggesting wildlife that appeals most to terriers. Roger grows woad, and other things that can be used as natural dyes, but before the knitters and weavers amongst you get excited, he doesn't appear to knit, spin or weave. Or, to my eternal disappointment, to paint himself and Tim blue in order to advance menacingly on Hadrian's Wall.

The other plots are held by a motley group of gardeners, some very experienced, with fine soil and serried ranks of cabbages, some so new that they haven't seen, as I have, the relentless march of the Jerusalem artichokes that someone planted some years ago and then shared. Another ten years of this insidious invasion, and the entire site might be renamed Jerusalem Gardens, with a bunch of defeated gardeners putting together J.A. recipe books and presenting a brave face to the world.

So, that's the place where we go to battle with Nature, wreck our fingernails, and replenish our souls. See how lush and green it all looks? Mostly weeds and brambles, perhaps all that stands between us and world domination by the artichokes, but a secret little patch of heaven between the city and the Dene. I love it.


mountainear said...

A most enjoyable conducted tour - especially as it involved no walking on my part.

judy in ky said...

A fascinating tour of allotments and local characters!

Susan said...

Another perfect post. I agree with Judy our Kansas sleuth - tres fascinating and oh so beautifully written ( as usual). Allotments are a very cool idea and actually a thing that seems to be cropping (;-) up in many North American cities & urban-ish areas.

Linda said...

How nice to be able to leave your front door and have so much public green space within easy walking distance - and your allotment too.
With such a lovely house, and the city shops and good friends it seems the perfect combination.
Wouldn't ear-plugs be easier than moving????

rachel said...

Linda, stop it; you sound like all my friends! An allotment isn't somewhere you can drift out to in your nightie, teacup in hand, to inspect, do a little evening watering, close the cold frames - it becomes scary and lonely in the evenings - and I need, need, NEED to have a garden attached to my house!

And I'll have another lovely home...and friends will come and stay... I just don't know where yet.

Pam said...

Yes, yes. You need to be able to drift out in your nightie. I agree. It might be possible to find a house with a garden without moving three hundred miles to the south, but this is just an observation.

I loved this post and your allotment-at-dawn (well maybe not exactly dawn) post. Very very evocative. Surely you're going to write a book about it???? I will definitely buy a copy of the first edition.

Linda said...

Sorry. Didn't mean to offend in any way. I suppose we all look at aspects of other lives as being idyllic and aspects of our own as things we would change.

I live in a bungalow on the edge of a town:

Veg garden - tick.

Neighbours who can look in to house and garden - tick.

Very high heating bills - tick (no way that we can see of reducing them due to chalet style of bungalow).

Need to use car to get anywhere - tick.

Whole county over-run with tourists in summer, so impossible to find car park space along entire west coast of county - tick (this happened to my best friend and her 10yr old last year). This is actually likely to be worse this year with more people staying in this country. I know tourism is good for businesses, but not always so good for locals.

Need to travel 100 miles to nearest out-of-town M&S - tick. (John Lewis - can only dream of!)

Art galleries & decent exhibitions usually 50 or 100 miles away at least - tick.

Feeling like a country bumpkin who usually ends up paying a fortune for London hotels to have a dose of life, shopping and culture - tick, tick, tick.

House-swap anyone?

Susan said...

tee hee, back again to read your comments to your comment-ers. I'm not missin' a word. Is there a book in the works because I too would be first in line at your book release.
cheers from les Gang

rachel said...

Oh goodness, Linda, no offence taken at all! Handy checklist though, thank you. If you had an email address to reply to, I might even talk house swap! 100 miles for M & S is a sobering thought though. I never go into the city if I can help it, but those handy little Simply Food stores on out of town estates would be a loss.....

rogern said...

For those interested, when I got my allotment about 4 yrs ago, part of the plan was to set up a bit of a dye garden. Mainly to use the pigments in my pictures. So far i have grown woad, yarrow, golden rod with varying degrees of success. It's a bit of an ongoing process...

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