After a SIX AND A HALF YEAR WAIT the longed-for letter arrived in the post, offering me that most sought after of treasures – a local council allotment plot.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I’d spent the previous few weeks coming to terms with the fact that I would not be allotmenting for a while – possibly quite some time – as the farmer that I have (for the last 5 years) rented from put his house and land up for sale a few months back and now looks to have a buyer. We don’t yet know if the new owner will continue to rent out as allotments or use the field for something else (property development is big business here in West Cornwall – much more lucrative than growing crops or renting out fields…) but to be honest by this point I have reached a point of: ‘enough is enough’, as there is nothing more demoralising than having your months of hard work thwarted by the all-powerful landowner, who can decide at any moment that he/she wants you (and your not-quite-yet-ready-to-harvest fruit and veg) off his/her land.
As a result of this uncertainty I have taken a somewhat cautious approach this last few months, planting mainly only quick-growing crops that will not be wasted if we’re all suddenly given the old heave-ho, and pondering a future in which we do not ‘grow out own’ – at least, not here, where we have done so for so long. I have also been limited in my activity by an injury to my hand that eventually required surgery, and what little ability I’ve had has gone into the garden at home. Consequently the allotment site looks pretty sad and sorry for itself – my own plots are somewhat neglected, many others lie empty, and those that are taken languish half-cared for, as we all wait, and wonder ….
And for me, personally, it has forced a decision, as I accepted that my time at this site was now over; regardless of the new owners decision, I myself am now done here. And thus I have, over the course of the last few weeks, been winding things down; harvesting what little I have planted this year, and digging up and moving as much as I can to relocate to the garden at home – quite a challenge, given my array of fruit bushes (collected over the course of this last five years) and the limited space that I have in the relatively small garden at home. The polytunnel, I had come to realise, will have to taken down and simply stored until the day – that one mythical, magical day – that I finally get what I have been waiting so long for – that holy of Holy Grails – a local allotment plot. And then it happened!
‘Dear …. we are pleased to offer you …’
My initial excitement, however, soon turned to disappointment , when I went to view my new empire and discovered, not the potential paradise I had envisaged but an overgrown mess of couch grass, weeds and fly-tipped rubbish which I suspect has been dumped by neighbouring allotmenteers, too lazy to take a trip to the local tip with their broken pots, tattered seed trays and empty compost bags – just chuck them on that empty plot, why not?!
This plot has clearly been unused for several years. Totally bonkers and actually quite unacceptable, given the huge number of people waiting desperately for an allotment plot, but told there are none available and made to wait several years – in my case six and a half. Friends of mine who recently moved to the town signed up twelve months ago and were told to expect a wait of NINE YEARS! Nine years waiting while plots like this lie stagnant – and, when they finally get offered to someone, that someone (in this instance me) has no choice but to turn it down because it is so overgrown and will take too much work to make it fit for use – and then it lies empty again … How can this be right?
Lucky for me, when I visited the site, there was a long-term plot-holder there who happily showed me around, pointing out the other plots that were, as far as he knew, available, and so i was able to go back to the council, armed with a list of plot-numbers, and negotiate an offer of a more suitable plot – one that is still a little overgrown but not madly so, and one that I can now get stuck into and soon see results. The original offer, in the meantime, lies empty and increasingly overgrown, and the waiting list of wannabes allotmenteers just continues to get longer … and longer …
But enough about them – and more about me! I cannot wait to get stuck in, clearing my new plot and making it my own. My first proper visit yesterday revealed the outline of beds and paths, laid by previous plot-holders – also a fine collection of fruit bushes and even a pear tree (with one pear – the rest scrumped by nearby plot holders?). It is plot number 13 – unlucky for some, but hopefully not for me. Close to the site entrance, it is not too far to lug stuff from the boot of the car and has a stream running along one side for free access to water. Previous plot-holders cleared and flattened a site for a shed, and the existing veg beds lie covered in weed-supressant plastic, meaning that – once I’ve cleared the shallow-rooted surface weeds – I should be able to get planting and preparing for the years ahead!