Monday, 2 March 2009

Allotments and our cultural heritage

I found this old leather glove of mine on the allotment path on the way home.

Allotmenteers and gardeners make their mark on history, and on the land. It is unmistakably my glove. Even down to the way it has moulded itself to the lines of my hand. Three and a half years of work and weather in it.

This weekend it was a joy to see our site buzzing with people. Lots of newbies. I hope they stick at it. Some get disheartened because they haven't learned how. One reason I started this blog.

I've worked and planned pretty hard for the past few months - so there's no big rush and just last minute preparations to do for spring.

Prepared the potato beds. Planted out my first broad beans (with frost protection) and looked after the wild life contigent. In the true tradition of allotmenteers -I've used available materials to construct a simple wildlife pond.

The picture shows the front of my plot with a pile of twiggy material that doesn't compost down easily and an old paddling pool that I salvaged from the winter skip.

The whole lot is framed on the left and at the corner by an informal copper beech hedge which is mulched with wood chip to give it a better chance of growing.

The plan is to sink the paddling pool into the ground and frame it with the wood pile. We're allowed a small pond as long as it has a fence or hedge around it. (Which reminds me, I'm supposed to ask the council for permission, I think - must do that).

There's at least one toad in the pile already, and I'm going to see about getting some appropriate plants and even some frog spawn from someone who has a pond nearby. Hopefully they'll look after my slugs for me. We're in the organic contingent at this end of the site, so they won't have pesticides to worry about.

The rough lawn you can see has the odd bit of couch grass which needs taking out, but it's actually a rye grass and clover lawn which does the old apple trees a power of good as the clover fixes nitrogen from the air. It's also quite an exciting wildish spot for my daughter to play in.

Two years ago, the plots you can see in the distance (some of them very tidy - and different from our rustic plot - I don't really do straight lines...) did not exist and this part of the site was derelict. Like many allotment sites across the country, our survival has been subject to political whims.

Before I came three and half years ago the council tried to sell off this part of our site (including what is now my plot) to build a tennis court. It was a strange thing - we were one of the few cities in the country who didn't have a waiting list at that time - by accident or design - so many plots had been allowed to become derelict - it's an urban site and the land is very valuable...

Derelict plots were too difficult for some people to take on. I used to meet prospective allotmenteers - and watch their faces change to expressions of dismay at the sight of the plots that were being offered to them. My husband was the same.

Three and half years ago, just after my child was born, we went round the site with the pram. I had fallen in love with that derelict plot and the two old apple trees on it. It was a hot summer - I wanted to park baby in the shade. Nothing was going to stop me.

It was a sort of madness that made me do it. I suppose I was thinking - if I survived 49 hours in labour, then I could survive almost anything. And I did. It looks beautiful now.

Now we have a waiting list again. There are still derelict (or uncultivated) plots around though. If a plot is untouched for a long time (mine was left for about fifteen years at least) it is obviously so much more difficult to bring it back into circulation.

The council is busy with administrative changes. They should be making it easier for people to grow fruit and vegetables, especially with the recession when so many people need to boost their food budgets.

The water butt nearest to me is going to have to serve around fifty people this year. Our site has around two hundred plots. We don't have hand washing facilities, a toilet or a clubhouse - allotmenteers have even had to repair the pot holes in the road themselves.

We haven't survived this long (since the first World War at least) without putting in the graft . We're a hardy lot.

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