On Saturday morning the sun was shining, the sky was blue and there were whisperings of ”allotment, allotment” in the air. It was already 2 weeks since our last visit to sow our first seeds of 2018. I knew there wouldn’t be many signs of life in our seed beds but I wanted Euan to understand the importance of being habitual with our visits, especially to water on sunny days. It’s a about a 25 minute walk for little legs to the plot and I’ve accepted Euan can only really do it one way on a hot day to remain moan free. Last time we got a lift down with George on his way to work but that meant we were there an hour before our allotment guardian Dave arrived and toddler Luca was full of energy, excitement and mischief. On Saturday I decided it would work better to play at home for a bit and walk to the plot when Luca was ready for his nap. It wouldn’t give us much time to work but on a hot day our visit would be cut short anyway as there’s little shade on the plot. I set my sights on achieving one task of sowing some new seeds and anything else would be a bonus.
Sometimes knowing you are short of time is good for concentrating the mind and in the 30 minutes that Luca napped we managed to water our seed beds, sow a row of beetroot and make a wigwam for our runner beans. As expected there was no sign of our carrots (they usually take about 3 weeks to germinate) but the lettuce was peaking out of the ground and the water cress was showing some signs of surfacing.
Euan was excited about making a runner bean wigwam and surprised by how quick and easy it was. We borrowed 6 bean poles from Dave and pushed them into the ground in the shape of a hexagon. We used 2 cable ties to fasten the poles together at the top and then planted a bean either side of each bean pole and a few spares in the centre. Euan was intrigued to see the different varieties of beans Dave had saved from last year and said he felt like Jack in the story of the magic beanstalk as he popped them in his pocket to walk back to our patch to plant them. I’m not quite sure how the 3 varieties of beans we planted (white, purple and black and brown) will differ in appearance and taste but that’s half the fun of gardening using saved seeds isn’t it!
Dave offered us some greens to plant as he always sows more than he needs so he can share plants with other allotment holders. We declined the offer as we only have a small amount of space and I wanted Euan to grow things he enjoys eating. He was quite keen to grow a cabbage, inspired by a photo in Dave’s shed of him holding a giant 36lb cabbage, but he was easily persuaded not to when I pointed out it wouldn’t be ready until summer was long gone. Each year Dave tries to beat his 36lb record and there’s a friendlyand informal giant cabbage growing competition that goes on among other growers on the plot that starts with donations of Dave’s seedling cabbages.
We’re saving the last bit of space on our patch for some tomato plants Dave is currently bringing along in his shed. Tomatoes are my favourite produce to grow and the reason I took on an allotment in the first place (thanks to my love of green tomato chutney and not being able to source green tomatoes anywhere). I’m really hoping our tomatoes don’t suffer blight again like they did last summer. At least when you only have a small patch the loss of 4 plants doesn’t feel as great as the year blight destroyed over 20 previously strong, healthy, fruit giving tomato plants.
We were delighted to see our friend Henri at the plot on Saturday. He’s a familiar figure during harvest time when he leaves the plot pushing his bike laden with his allotment grown produce. Henri will celebrate his 94th birthday this year which is amazing having undergone a triple heart bypass operation 7 years ago. He’s in pain every day and beginning to struggle with some of the heavier allotment tasks but his plot is still immaculate and abundant. Henri is Italian and grows grapes on his allotment that he nurtured from seeds smuggled insidea hanky in his pocket when he arrived in Gloucester soon after the second world war had ended. His brother had been a prisoner of war in the Forest of Dean and stayed here when he was freed having fallen in love with a local girl. Henri decided to join his brother in Gloucester and he took on his allotment not long after. It’s amazing to think his grape vine is truly one of a kind in England and he makes about 14 litres of wine each year from the grapes he picks.
Henri is so knowledgable and we all love to hear his gardening wisdom. When I asked if I could take a picture of him with Euan he said ”Of course” and reached his arm out for a hug. I loved the picture I snapped but there was something missing. I took a second picture and this time got Henri’s bike in the frame. If you know Henri you just can’t picture him down at the allotment without his bike!
I think this second picture could be one of my all time favourite allotment photos now. I love what it says about Euan’s delight at simply being on the allotment. I love the ease of these two allotment buddies, born 87 years apart, in front of the camera and with one another. And it reminds me of a picture I shared in another post featuring Henri called ”I is for … inspired by older people”.
Conversation connects and encourages people. We all have cool stuff to share and we need more ways to bring people of different generations and cultures together. All over the country this is happening on allotments and I feel so lucky to have been welcomed back into this beautiful allotment community with my boys.
© ‘‘Talk to old people, they know cool stuff you don’t. Talk to young people, they know cool stuff you don’t” image was from a website called ‘We are what we do’ which is sadly no longer on-line. The brilliant book created by them called Change the world for a fiver’ can still be found pre-loved though.