Gardens: ‘I was asked if I had anybody strong to do the digging’

Fishing nets protect plants at an Arbroath site. Picture: Contributed
Fishing nets protect plants at an Arbroath site. Picture: Contributed
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MENTION a trip to Arbroath and most people will connect it with the Declaration of Arbroath signed there in 1320 following the Battle of Bannockburn.

There’s a beautiful ruined abbey. Its maritime heritage is well-known with Stevenson’s Bell Rock Lighthouse warning of a hazardous reef. And of course, there are Arbroath Smokies.

But I also know that Arbroath is home to some long-established allotments. So, when an opportunity arose to visit them I got in touch with local plotholder, Joe Gibb. It was a miserable cold wet day, but that didn’t stop us putting on wellies and waterproofs to explore.

Joe’s guided tour of the current Arbroath allotment sites also took in other significant local landmarks. I admired the “round O” window in the gable end of the Abbey where monks lit fires to guide sailors before the lighthouse existed. I loved the water tower built like a sham medieval fortress in 1885 which dominates the view above one of the allotment sites.

Joe’s research showed that the allotments began at the end of 1917 when there were 52 plots. The Garden Allotments and Food Producers Association charged an annual plot rent of 5 shillings. By spring 1918, the number of plots had increased to 98 on six sites.

I met Ella on the Hayshead site where her aunt and grandfather had had plots before her. Her husband John showed me round. This sloping site 
enclosed by lovely stone walls was originally intended 
to be an ornamental Italianate garden and grazings but the plans never materialised and it became allotments.

The first plotholders in Arbroath were all male, except for one lone female. I’d like to know more about this lady and what made her join this all-male preserve. Twenty five years ago, as one of only two females on my site, I remember being asked by one of the men if I had anybody strong at home who could do the digging for me!

I’m always pleased to see plotholders using local resources. I spotted old fishing nets covering sturdy fruit cages and seaweed used to enrich compost.

We finished up at the Brechin Road site were my host had his plot. This is a big site laid out very similarly to my own. In addition to growing fruit and vegetables, he wins prizes for his dahlias. His beetroot is good too and I came home with a jar of his delicious chutney.