Antonia Swinson - Allotment Tales
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WITH each month that passes, I am becoming more aware of how lucky I am, and just what a resource my plot is.
Whenever I arrive in a new town, I look at it like a jigsaw, spending my stay fitting the pieces together.
There are surely few more exciting pleasures for an allotmenteer than enjoying a first crop of something you have never grown before.
I ARRIVE at the allotment after a week's holiday down south to find the beginnings of potato blight, yet the consolation too of a fantastic harvest of black and redcurrants.
FOR some weeks persistent rain has made visits to the allotment both fleeting and unsatisfactory. The weeds are winning. On the plus side, my potatoes think they are in Ireland and are shooting up, and if one can see amid the stair rods lashing down, everything is green and ripening fast. I pick a big juicy strawberry, poking out from sopping wet straw, before bolting for shelter.
For the fifth morning running I have been woken up by Austin Powers, on the razzle and outside my window.
IT IS usually only past the halfway mark of a decade that you find out what its defining characteristics really are. Which is as true for gardening as anything else. Just as the 1990s were the years of decking and water features, so the Noughties seem set to be the decade of kitchen gardening.
Wanted - pied piper. NOT YOUR normal Scotsman sit vac ad perhaps, but arriving at the allotments, I find a muddy quagmire and rats, lots of them, eating into sheds and munching seed packets, and chitting potatoes. Rentokil is on the case but we are told to watch out. Gingerly, I open my shed door . . . all seems OK. I plant a few early onions, shove newspapers into the compost and beat a retreat. What's worse - live rats or their poisoned corpses, I wonder?
DO you believe in fairies? MY favourite moment in the film of The Railway Children is not that "oh-my-daddy" scene on the station platform, but the Christmas production of Peter Pan, when Wendy asks the audience if they believe in fairies and out booms Papa to general applause: "Yes, I most certainly do!" If we don't believe, as JM Barrie tells us, somewhere a fairy dies.
IN THE RICHARD GERE/J-LO movie Shall We Dance? there's a funny line when a character announces that her husband has left her for a woman he met through a gardeners' chat room. I always laugh because it is spot on. Forget ballroom dancing, it's gardening blogs that are really exciting.
The bill from the council for my allotment arrived this week - £42.
SATURDAY morning and after a night of storms, daughter Ella and I arrive at the allotment. Hot news! A mini tornado has ripped through the site uprooting two sheds and a large tree.
AS A CHILD, a regular family jaunt was to George Bernard Shaw's house in Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire. I particularly loved his extraordinary shed, which, built on casters, could be turned to face the sun. Later, I discovered sheds were almost a prerequisite for literary success - from Arthur Miller, who built a shed in which to write Death of a Salesman, to literary titans Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie and Dylan Thomas, and more recently Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman.
WHY DOES IT ALWAYS start raining on Saturday mornings the minute I pull up at the allotments? Each week the timing has a malevolent perfection, as if vengeful gods chart my course and the second I arrive, whoosh! Down comes that rain in bucketloads, curtailing the time I can spend on site and my enjoyment.
WALKING up the path between the plots on this cold Saturday morning, I take my time to check what stage each has reached.
A FEW months ago I received a wonderful letter from my old professor who described how he had taken on an allotment to relax from the rigours of university politics, only to find that allotments were a mixed blessing, providing far too much opportunity for worrying.
I AM sitting in my shed sheltering from the haar which has descended to suffocate a glorious Indian summer.