“The standard allotment plot in England and Wales is the ‘10 pole plot’, which if properly husbanded, should feed a family of four for a twelvemonth.”
National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Website
When I first took up my allotment on Cole Park 20 years ago it was like the steppes with small groups of plot holders scattered across a vast undeveloped plain that hadn’t seen spade or billhook since the days of “Dig for Victory”. The only sound was the gentle swish of scythe and click-clack of clippers. The only concession to modernity was the plastic sacks full of horse manure. This was an ageing community, with some members who claimed they had learned to dig on D.Day. My own neighbour warned me never to walk on freshly tilled ground, not because of the seeds that might be growing there, but because of possible land mines!
Occasionally an official from Hounslow council would turn up and stroll round amiably to check that the water tanks were still working or that the more active members of the Isleworth Horticultural Society hasn’t turned their hut into a pole dancing club. Otherwise time stood still. There were the occasional adventures - lost children, fly tipping, vandalism and on one occasion a suspected murder but apart from that all was perfect peace under a drowsy suburban sun. Radish and rhubarb sat alongside bramble and dock. Thistle and thorn provided shade for lettuce and sprout. As bees buzzed and standpipe gurgled all was well with the world and the Borough Council.
Time passes and our little Garden of Eden has moved on. Now allotments are trendy and a part of the modern ‘lifestyle’. Radicchio has replaced radish and blueberries replaced blackberries and the empty spaces at our allotment have been taken over by a new breed of gardener - younger, more focussed, more willing to experiment. The swish of the scythe is replaced by the whir of the strimmer. Back breaking agony and large tubes of embrocation have been exchanged for rotavators and power diggers. In the old days folk would dress down to go to the allotment. Collarless shirts and trousers held up by bits of string were considered the very thing. Now we all dress up in fashionable “gardening wear” with matching accessories. New words have entered our vocabulary - organic, sustainable, green, NPK.
Some of the older members may wonder about the new concepts and the new tools and the fancy new ways of doing things but even they are beginning to realise that amongst all that newness there are some old and valuable ideas re-emerging. For the first time in many decades we have seen a return of chickens, beehives and fishponds as well. There has even been talk of reintroducing goats, something that hasn’t been seen in this area for over a hundred years.
Our allotment is gently reverting back to what it once was, a small part of “London’s breadbasket” as King Henry 8th nicely put it, a place of orchards, apiaries and fresh, healthy food. For all its streets and houses, noise and bustle our community is still a garden, with green open spaces, rivers, parks and allotments on all sides. We should all dig out our old trousers and a bit of string to hold them up and enjoy them together…
…Now where is my spade?
– from Martyn Day
Credits: The photographs taken at Cole Park allotments are by Amanda Day.