Since the arrival of our little girl our allotment has suffered many phases of neglect planned or unplanned, but never one like this year! Around Christmas last year, we made the fateful decision to leave our allotment to its own devises for the first two weeks of June by booking our annual holidays – not knowing what a heat wave would roll over the country.
Not only did the British weather GLEAM with sunshine while we were away, our holidays had approached so rapidly that we had to leave the site with a greenhouse full of seedlings and garden beds half dug up. When we finally returned, it was obvious that the despair for our potted treasures was only outdone by the delight of the weeds. Apart from a couple of tomatoes and pumpkins that our neighbour had kindly saved, the beginnings of our garden were shrivelled up into ghostly remains and the bare beds had been taken over by the weeds. Except our strawberries!
In handfuls the ripe red fruits were scattered around the patch. Surprisingly untouched by the birds and slugs; just waiting to be picked.
Once the bounty was safely stacked in the leftover plastic lid from a thrown-out seed tray, we sat down in the greenhouse door, dusty and dirty, for a little impromptu feast. Munching on the juicy berries, my eyes wandered over the garden and somehow the deep tangle of strawberry leaves lay bare what had always been in plain sight: prosperous doesn’t have to be perfect.
I should have known with an allotment neighbour, who’s garden looks like a scrap yard, yet his harvest storage is better stocked than a supermarket, but it’s a well cultivated habit of mine that I always want to do too much (often too soon too quick). Six months ago I stood – feeling very smug – in a checkout cue with an armful of weed proof membrane, thinking this summer I’d finally have the entire garden blooming. We’d been talking about giving our overgrown allotment a facelift for years. Four years to be exact. As this is how long we’ve had our not so little plot of land in our care. But we never really managed to maintain it further than the first third. There were half-hearted attempts: big bonfires burned, weed killers sprayed, grass trimmers used, recycled pieces of tarpaulin put down, but by mid-summer the weeds in the lower half of the garden were waist high again and the idea to cultivate it abandoned.
This year garden preparations had started in January. While weeding the middle section (my brawls with the brambles were talk of the neighbourhood!) I’d discovered the remains of some “ancient” path under all the mud and decided to go all out on the re-vamp. Plans were drawn, paths were dug up and the aforementioned weed membrane was purchased. Then March came around quicker than the beds were laid and instead of just focusing on my renovation plans I also felt compelled to actually plant things in the garden. I spent a small fortune on seeds and filled the greenhouse with plants. But June came around even quicker and we left for Spain. Upon return I found myself in the midst of the chaos of two unfinished projects that had – in my absence – taken on a life of their own, or not as it turned out. A change of plans was urgently required.
As Elise Cripe, my favourite type-A person on the internet, would tell you, changing your plan is good! There are new chances in the failing of old endeavours! It’s an opportunity to reflect and adjust.
Which is exactly what I did – with that punnet of strawberries in my hands – I questioned and considered and wondered until a new plan had formed: I vowed that apart from the few plants that had survived the hiatus, nothing else would be planted this year; instead I would spend the rest of the year slowly and carefully cleaning and re-building our allotment. Then, once the path was laid down, I would in true Charles Dowding* fashion, never dig a patch again. Because quite obviously I don’t need to do it all to reap some rewards.
Oh & H – a homemakers column. A bi-weekly sharing of life’s little stories between keeping a tiny terraced house and tending to an overgrowing allotment.
Oh and PS
*Charles Dowding is the creator of the No-Dig gardening book, my new allotment bible. Evidence of the success of his gardening approach can be seen on his blog or at the marvellous Clumber Park, where the kitchen garden has been a bountiful dream this year.