See this dopey sod in the woolly hat? That’s me, that is, planting a gooseberry bush (Invicta strain, since you ask) with my old friend Dan in our allotment. I put it here because it’s the first fruit bush I’ve ever planted. Having spent more than half a century being violently opposed to gardening, I now find myself – gardening?
If my father’s got an RSS feed running in whichever realm of being he now finds himself, he will be enjoying himself. When he was alive in this reality, he was the keenest of gardeners, an inveterate builder of rock gardens and turfer of open spaces, and it must have been an endless disappointment to him that his eldest son had no interest whatsoever in such matters; in fact, that he actively resented being asked to help out with mowing the lawn or mixing concrete or watering in the summer. We shared lots of things – books, music, history, politics – but we did not share that.
I put my name down for an allotment at the Rosendale Allotment Association more than a decade ago, I think – mainly for my wife’s benefit, since she loves her garden, but perhaps a part of me was ready to give it a go. There’s a lovely moment in the new series of that fishing show with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse where Whitehouse says he doesn’t really garden, and Mortimer responds by saying something like all gardeners know that non-gardeners will, eventually, come round to it, that it’s a natural response to getting older.
Covid played havoc with allotments, I reckon – lots of people just gave up, perhaps because they were ill, perhaps because they couldn’t face going back to plots that had run riot along with the virus. Whatever the reason, plots at Rosendale became available last year, and I found myself at the top of the list. When the phone call came through I nearly panicked and said we no longer wanted it, but stuck to it and made the essential move of asking our friends Kerry and Dan if they fancied coming on board with us. They’re both enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardeners, and were keen. And so, in August, the four of us embarked on a journey with Plot 10.
The plot was horrifically grown over when we started. But even in three months we’ve made huge strides – mainly because Dan is retired and loves the hard work of digging, moving the clay on which the allotment sits from one side to the other, and building beds and shed-bases from old pallets and scaffolding boards like the Dartmoor farm boy he was. My wife and Kerry provide the horticultural know-how, and I do what I’m told – dig a hole there, hold that stake straight, shift that manure. Here’s a quick before-and-after.
We’ve already planted white and red onions, spring onions, garlic and broad beans. This weekend, four fruit bushes went in: two gooseberry Invictas, a blueberry Duke and another blueberry the name of of which I’ve already forgotten. There is so much to do, and so much to learn. But the onions, garlic and beans are already sprouting like crazy. there’s manure from the local stables rotting down, the shed base is ready and we’ve built a place for strawberries out of a pallet. Pallets, it seems, are now a big part of my life.
So there you are, Dad. Who would have thought it? Sorry for being so grumpy about working in the garden. And sorry, again, for that time I tried to burn it down – which is another story, for another day.