Gardens: The thought of sinking slowly into the mud is not a pretty one

IT has been a busy year at the Ferry Road Allotments for gardening enthusiasts Reverend Dr W Graham Monteith and his wife Edna.

As 2010 draws to a close, Trinity-based Rev Monteith, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, reflects on the progress the pair have made, including the many accessibility problems they have overcome.

The gates to the allotments did not make a welcoming start. You are meant to step through them, although they can be opened to permit vehicular access.

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Fortunately, the council soon rectified that matter and everyone has one common key which opens both padlocks.

So far so good, but for a wheelchair, let alone a big one with batteries, most plots remain inaccessible. Each is separated by a grassy path which is not wide enough or firm enough to take the weight of my wheelchair, and the thought of sinking slowly into the mud is not a pretty one.

I have been using a powerchair for the last eight years and fortune was shining on me when we were allocated a plot which opened directly on to the path. My wife Edna actually has the green fingers and enthusiasm, but I like to pretend to be the boss and to take credit for the best produce. May my sins be forgiven!

Our plot had all the usual problems with paths which were too narrow and were made of pitted lino, cardboard and anything else that had come to hand. They were too narrow and although the shed was in reasonable condition, it could not accommodate my wheelchair.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a wife and a father-in-law, Eddie. He set about to rebuild the shed with an extra wide door and as small a step as possible into the shed where I could turn around my wheelchair (knocking everything for six in the process!) and shelter from the rain. We had two rubber chocks which must be collectors' pieces from the Battle of Britain but make a splendid ramp into the shed.

It so happened that we were getting a ramp made into our flat and all the old slabs were exported five at a time in our estate car so that paths could be made which were wide and secure enough for a powerchair.

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Our allotment now has a ramp from the path, which leads to a picnic area, and a path has been built which can take me to the other end to see how the compost is progressing.

Many therapists suggest disabled people like myself should have high raised-beds so we can garden from our wheelchairs.

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It is supposed to be therapeutic, but I have never believed in therapy. I prefer to give nagging advice, share in loads of tea and biscuits and sit in the sun with the final technological necessity for an allotment - an "e-reader".

These are wonderful things. The pages are not blurred by bright sunshine, nor does the wind disturb your place. Now that is my kind of allotmenteering.

However, there is nothing better than watching a tiny seed grow over the summer into a massive plant and produce a fruit.That gives more food for thought than a hundred books on my electronic reader.