Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Crossing the line

I crouch over the raised bed, hurriedly stuffing compost into a pot. The familiar clank of the allotment gate makes me look up. It's Yvonne. Has she noticed me, knelt in my neighbour's plot?

I straighten up, and walk over to meet her. We exchange pleasantries. If she senses something is awry, she's giving nothing away. She wanders over to tend her courgettes. Meanwhile, my eyes quickly sweep the crime scene. A quick glance to check she's occupied, and I hastily retrieve a stray trowel.

As August draws to a close, we've been thinking about strawberries. One of our beds is looking habitable and summer's the time to plant. We've heard they're resilient, so we're keen to test their mettle on our plot.

At this time of year strawberries send out runners: long tentacles, bent on multiplication. These tendrils flower, put out roots, and hey-presto a new plant is born. It's surprisingly efficient and, more importantly, cost effective.

The neglected plot next door has several beds of Fragarias (see how I slipped some Latin in). Several months ago the fruit ripened – tender, juicy, and miraculously unscathed by the birds. We watched aghast as it rotted before our eyes, unharvested by the neighbour we'd never seen.

This time we were determined not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Satisfied the neighbouring plot had been abandoned, we made our move. We located five pots in their finest bed, and trained a runner into each. In a few weeks the flowers will have put down enough roots to survive. Then we can cut the umbilical cords and take our new arrivals to their new home: three feet away.

We get free plants, and the strawberries survive, transplanted from their weed-infested habitat. It should be win-win, so why do I feel like I've broken a taboo?

I'm counting the days until I can go straight.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Missing, presumed …

We met Len and Alison on our first allotment visit. They were a friendly couple, who could chatter for hours. Almost daily we'd pass them on the street, ferrying seedlings or tools to their plot. In those early weeks they were a fixture at the allotment.

Then, they were gone: we never saw them again. Months have passed since our last cheerful exchange. Our plot is tamed and reborn; theirs wastes away. Grass gnaws at the edges of the beds. Weeds infiltrate their crops.

I guess we’re surrounded by bit-part players like Len and Alison. Day in, day out, we share a platform, a bus ride, or a queue. We know little about these intimate strangers, but their presence reassures us that all is well; life is proceeding as normal.

Then, after months or years of underrated service, they exit our lives. Have they changed routine? Have they moved away, or fallen ill? The questions remain unanswered. We soon forget about them, and another extra fills the gap.

At the allotment the strangers are more substantial, and their absence more evident. The encroaching weeds leave a lingering scar, an empty hole.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007


He marks, and pierces, and pivots, and heaves, and turns, and sweats, and pauses.

Rubber boots slice into his bare shins. Rivulets of perspiration dissect his brow.

Daughter and giraffeDaughter converses with giraffe, waxing lyrical nonsense. The air throbs, resonating with the chirps of crickets.

He marks, and pierces, and pivots, and heaves, and turns, and sweats.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Grows on trees

I pay scant regard to the tree. One of the scenery flats, it towers far above the leading player: the soil.

But yesterday I noticed apples - sweet, crisp, juicy apples. A legion of them, hanging nonchalantly from every branch.

Whilst my gaze was averted, Nature had laid out a feast.

Monday, 6 August 2007


It’s been a discouraging few months on the allotment. Our soil needs work; nothing can grow in it. Potatoes, beans, sweetcorn, they’ve all failed in the face of such adversity. But our humble courgette has clung on.

Courgette on plantI never saw courgettes as survivors. I’d reserved my admiration for root vegetables, like potatoes or turnips. It’s like I equated dirt with muscle tone or something. Well, like the good book says, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Our courgette is flourishing, basking in our undivided attention. Its fruit may be underweight, but it’s our firstborn.