Don't lose the plot
A friend once asked me "Is it really worthwhile all that digging, weeding, sowing and watering, would it not be easier to go to the farm shop?" She had a point. The fruits of my labours often bear the sorry scars of organic pest passage and some never make it over the start line, being at the constant mercy of a resident slug militia. However despite a constant battle with nature's determined march over my carrots and peas, seeing the first shoots of your own veg is a pleasure so satisfying that there can be little in comparison. Never will a potato taste as good as the one dug fresh from ground you have tended with your own hands.
It is for these reasons and more that the popularity of the allotment is on the rise. No longer is it the realm of flat caps and leeks straighter than the nose of the country fair judge. This green paradise is now a wholeheartedly democratic affair. Plots and gardeners line up together, in the town and the country, from all stages and walks of life.
The inspiration and well-being allotments generate cannot be underestimated. There are now over 250,000 active plots in the UK, which may not seem many compared to the Dig for Victory Campaign in World War II which resulted in an unprecedented 1,400,000 plots across the country.
When I went plot visiting on a cold March day in Cornwall, my hopes of finding anybody busy with a spade were slim to say the least. My first stop was Marazion. This site is quite high and Atlantic winds whip across Mounts Bay, lashing sprout plants and bean poles into reclined positions.
With twenty plots, nearing one-quarter of an acre each, everyone has a good slice of land for what seems like a ridiculously fair price of £8 per year. There are no toilets or running water like on some council run plots but the location (especially on a summer's day) is lovely.
As I meandered amongst the sheds I pondered my bright idea to do a story on gardening at this time of year. For a while the most activity I saw was the flapping plastic bottles and dazzling discs used to scare the birds. With my hopes dashed of finding anyone sowing their trenches I made my way back past the water butts, baths and just about any container that could hold water.
However, not to be put off by the chill of the day, a lone gardener did finally make an appearance. The jovial Mr Grainger told me he had just nipped down to get in his Earlies before the rain came in, which he assured me it would by the afternoon (at 3pm the heavens opened proving he knew his weather as well as his potatoes).
Commenting on how his garden is for 'recreation' he is one of many of the retired allotment holders who enjoy the social aspects of the plot. Enjoying getting out in the elements for some wholehearted digging does wonders for lifting the spirits and keeping fit into the bargain.
Leaving Mr Grainger with his Earlies I headed off to Penzance to discover the nine council owned allotments dotted around the outskirts of the town.
Looking distinctly tidier than the Marazion site, I wondered whether this was down to plot pride or plot pressure. Tighter packed, the smaller spaces require their tenants to be more attentive, the unruly plot holder being frowned upon for spreading unwanted weeds.
With evidence of leeks, winter spinach, purple sprouting, over wintered onions and the mounded ridges of early potatoes, Penzance was clearly taking advantage of Cornish clement weather. Typically a month ahead of the game, Cornwall can expect some of the earliest crops in the country... providing you get them in the ground!
Chloe Wild http://www.seasaltcornwall.co.uk
Special thanks to Mr Grainger and his Marazion Allotment
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