In an attempt to save money, help the environment and smugly share our home grown produce with our friends, Andrew and I have decided to go full Tom and Barbara and rent an allotment.
Some of the best memories I have of my Dad are helping him out on his allotment, round the corner from our house in Bridlington. We only had a small yard for a garden so the allotment felt like a trip to the countryside. It was idyllic – rows of neatly planted veggies, fruit bushes laden with berries, bonfires on grey afternoons, friendly chats with neighbouring allotment owners, fetching the water from overflowing baths that doubled up as water butts.
My Dad was a bit chaotic and wasn’t very good at sticking to things he started. The one thing he stuck with for years was his allotment and it was one of the last things he gave up. I remember onions strung up in our backyard and piles of potatoes freshly dug from the ground he spend weeks preparing. He used to grow so much stuff that he traded it for beer at the local pub, The Crown.
In an attempt to recreate this for our children (minus bartering veggies for beer), I called Sheffield City Council and asked them to add me to the list for the next available allotment in our area. I thought it would take months for one to come up, didn’t people hang on to allotments for years? Maybe even until they died?
Well, I got a call from the Council two weeks later and, with great and misplaced excitement, we met a nice lady from the Parks Department to view an allotment, where it did indeed look like someone had died. Or, more likely, been murdered.
The day didn’t start well. Joni was in full meltdown mode from the moment she got up. Some of the many, many things that made her cry included having too much milk on her cereal, wearing sleeves, being cold, being hot and, worst of all, not wanting to go out. A cold rock of fear (good name for a film, right?) settled in my stomach as battle commenced on getting Joni out of the house in time to meet the lady from the council.
After attempting every bribe I could think of, asking nicely, shouting and then trying to drag her out of the house. We eventually came to an arrangement where she would leave the house if I carried her in the sling. So with a two and a half stone child strapped to my front and Evan in the pram I raced down the hill, unable to see where I was going due to Joni’s giant size toddler head blocking my view.
We met the lady from the Council and I made an awkward comment about Joni being ‘a bit upset today’ to explain why I had a three foot tall toddler attached to me. The lady smiled politely and opened a giant metal gate to the allotments. This high security entrance was the first warning sign.
We followed her along a narrow, slippy dirt path which looked like something out of Labyrinth. Either side of the path were seven foot high privet hedges with weird little front doors every so often the indicated there was an allotment behind this great green fortress. How would I get nice old people to help me with my allotment if they were hiding behind towering privet?
Eventually at the bottom of a very long hill, the lady opened one of the doors to reveal a huge expanse of jungle. This allotment looked as though no one had set foot in it for about 100 years. It was massive and overgrown to the point that there was no path and no discernible edge as to where the overgrown plants ended and the hedge began. The Good Life this was not.
I left Evan by the door (this was not buggy terrain) and me and Joni explored further, but really, this was a job for a team of professional gardeners with heavy duty equipment. At the end of the allotment was a shed which could have doubled as the cabin from The Evil Dead. “Can we go in there mummy?” Joni asked. No, no we certainly cannot.
So, this was not the allotment for us. I asked to be moved to a waiting list for some more civilised looking allotments near our house.
In the meantime we’ve decided to start our adventure into growing veggies in our own garden. It’s big enough and near enough so that we might just be able to grow something successfully on it.