I am accident prone. Just putting it out there. I have a serious propensity for injuring myself in ridiculous and often embarrassing accidents. Never before though, has an injury annoyed me as much as this broken toe. Now I’ve broken toes before, and of course it’s painful and debilitating, and a little embarrassing. This one though, this broken toe has hurt me to the bone (sigh). As a result of limping around for the past three weeks, I’ve been unable to get out to my allotment at all. I’ve missed glorious sunny days and a few weeks worth of planting and weeding. Worst of all though, my broken toe has killed EVERYTHING in my polytunnel. Every last little seedling, every tomato plant, every cucumber, every delicious pumpkin and aubergine. It’s all dead. Gone.
Yesterday, I took a trip (a few trips actually, due to the limping) out to the plot, braced for whatever disaster lay ahead of me. When I arrived, the plot was weedy. Very weedy. There were tall weeds where three weeks ago, no weeds resided. So I, of course, got to weeding. I spent a good three hours hopping around the garden, Joe the robin in tow (toe?) pulling weeds and tidying my beds up.
Now, I knew my polytunnel was in a bad way but I was afraid to go inside. It was as if the longer I put it off, the less likely I would be to cry. Though my tears would have been significantly better irrigation than the scant water my plants had gotten over the past few weeks. Eventually though, I had to venture in. Filled with trepidation, I hopped inside and surveyed the damage that a three week drought in summer could do to my plants.
A lot is the answer. It could do a lot of damage. My beautiful tomato plants had all but withered to a crisp, my cucumbers were all limp and yellow and everything else had simply vanished.
I resigned myself to the fact that it was my own fault and decided to just suck it up and chalk it down to experience. I disposed of the dead plants – always a horrible task – and got planting again. Then, something truly wonderful happened, one of my friends on site, on hearing of my plight, brought me a gift of a beautiful healthy tomato plants and a cucumber plant. Now, this is what I truly love about gardening, particularly community gardening. It’s just that, a community. Gardeners truly are the most generous, friendliest people in the world. Never before I started my allotment, had I experienced such community spirit. I worry sometimes that communities are dead, that the only ones left are those we like on Facebook or Twitter, that our only new friendships are formed through the keys on a laptop or a smartphone. I worry because every hour of every day I see people, friends, lovers, families, sitting together but not really being together.
I even experience it myself most days. Dinner with friends and their phones, cinema with friends and their phones, commutes with strangers and their phones. Next time you’re at a bus stop or train station, look around. How many other people are doing the same? Very few I’d imagine.
When I go to my allotment, people talk to me. Really talk to me. They tell me their stories, they ask me mine. They drink tea with me and swap seeds with me. They ask me for help or offer the same. Nowhere else in my life do I experience this anymore.
I realised that other people are the threads which hold the tapestry of our lives together, which help us make sense of our world, and by cutting ourselves off, we are sure to unravel.
I do believe that community gardens are the way forward. They are about people of all walks of life, coming together to grow. To grow food, to grow plants, to grow their understanding of the world around them, the grow their knowledge, and that of their children. To grow.
Last summer, I had a bit of a rough time. To be completely honest, I was very depressed. Now, mental health issues are not something we like to talk about, hear about or even read about, but there they are anyway and there it was, every day for months. I was suffering with insomnia, I couldn’t eat, I lost over three stone in as many months. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, I struggled to even leave my house. Here is what saved me: a community garden. Not mine, mind you, but a beautiful walled garden in a local park. St Anne’s Allotment Gardens is the site on which my parents have their beautiful plot and each year they hold an open day to coincide with the annual rose festival which runs in the park. I was dragged along to this by my parents when I was at my lowest point.
On arrival, I spoke to seven people in twenty minutes who I had never even met before and felt like I knew every single one of them. Within an hour, I was helping to sell plot grown veggies on a market stall, chatting and bartering with everyone passing by. An hour after that, I was enthralled by a beekeeper who opened a hive to let me photograph the queen. And as the day cooled down and the crowds dispersed, I sat with a group of 30 or so gardeners, eating delicious bbq food and salads from their plots while enjoying a cold beer and learning about how they each garden and what it means to them. And that day helped saved me, that community. I realised that other people are the threads which hold the tapestry of our lives together, which help us make sense of our world, and by cutting ourselves off, we are sure to unravel.
And, I do believe, we all need gardens. Some may not want them, or even like them, but we need them if we are to survive. That is a fact. My reasoning is this: we were born to survive. To procreate and to provide sustenance for ourselves and our loved ones. And I believe the satisfaction of gardening harks back to the hunter gatherer sentiment in us, we need to know how to hunt, how to gather. We need to know how to grow our own food. I believe it satisfies in us, our basic, primal instincts.
So, in effect, community gardening encompasses two of our most basic needs as human beings. I am never really as happy as I am when I’m out on the plot, doing my own thing, growing food, being an important contributor to the planet in my own small way. Never as happy as when somebody approaches me for a chat about my plot, or theirs, or about how to grow a certain plant. Or when somebody knows I’ve suffered a setback and gives me two beautiful plants to help get me back on track. And how something that was probably so insignificant to them, was very significant to me and gave me hope that all was not lost.
And I know my plot will be ok, it’s already getting back on track, I’ve dealt with most of the weeds, there’s a mountain of produce growing already and it is still fairly early in the season. Currently I have Rhubarb, Kale, Spinach, Rocket, Pak Choi, Rapsberries, Blueberries, Artichokes, Asparagus, Blackberries, Redcurrants, Beetroot, Baby Carrots, Broad Beans, Dwarf French Beans, Climbing French Beans, Pumpkins, Squash, Courgettes, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Onions, Leeks, Garlic and that’s not to mention all my herbs and flowers and the many crops I still have to plant this year. So, broken toe or not, I’m kicking last year in the arse in terms of what I’m growing.
So, to sum it up, If I could give you one piece of solid advice about your short life in this world, get out there and get yourself involved in a community garden, it’ll change everything, I promise.
Thank you to Pat for the wonderful plants, thank you to all my fellow plot holders for the chats and thank you to you for reading this so my friends don’t have to listen to me harping on about my garden again. If I’m not careful, one of these days they’ll plant me in it.