It happened with lightning speed. We were number 17 on the waiting list, how can it have gone so fast?! In August, before leaving for our summer holidays, we filed the official application; in September, I decided that application had been way too short and impersonal, and I wrote The Letter, detailing the reasons why we are so keen on an allotment. Then we “let it go”. Didn’t quite forget, but definitely let it go. Because number 17 translated into about two years of waiting. But then in mid-December we got the invitation to view three possible gardens! It was a bit shocking, especially coming in that super busy December period, just before Christmas, with our minds so much on other things. Of course, immediately the focus shifted, and we couldn’t think about anything else. The next day we went there ourselves, it was Sunday, mid-December, empty and cold, and we just walked and walked around, looking at the gardens, especially those that appeared semi-abandoned, guessing and noting them down. None of the gardens the manager showed us on the day had been on that list, but oh well, we got to know the territory.
I will not write in detail about how we actually chose the one we went for. There has been some toing and froing between n.2 and n.3, some logical thinking involved, some practical considerations thrown around, but really, in our hearts, we simply just knew. My husband fell in love with the little wooden house and I fell in love with the old mulberry tree. OK, admittedly, the house’s being equipped with a shower had something to do with it. And the built-in sleeping places. And the newly installed kitchenette. And the fact that the glasshouse is in a pristine condition. And maybe the fact that all the vegetable beds are laid out exactly the way we would have done it ourselves.
For me, the tree has been the main factor. That’s how I choose places where I live, I guess. Our current house, the one our children are growing up in and which I hope they will call their family home for years, has a beautiful Japanese cherry tree. I decided on the house when I saw that tree with a little bench underneath. I decided on the allotment when I saw the little bench with birds houses under the old mulberry tree. Apparently a very special one, it has been allowed to grow beyond the strict size limit, as an exception. I can’t wait to see it blossom.
It is a strange feeling, taking over someone else’s carefully tended garden. I almost feel the sadness of the other person’s leaving, saying goodbye to the place. I feel the plants, lying low in this December stillness, waiting breathlessly for their fate. Will they be the ones to stay or will they be dug up to make space for new owners’ other darlings? It disturbs me greatly, so I go around and whisper softly to every plant there they have nothing to fear.
Beyond the vegetable beds, which housed annuals anyway, I am leaving things be. Apart from some hydrangeas, I actually have very little idea what these things are. Bare and dark now, it’s impossible to imagine what the garden looks like at the height of summer. I decided it would be the “year of observing”, of finding out and carefully recording what already grows there, how it behaves throughout the seasons. But in all likelihood, I am leaving things be for years to come. I have a problem pulling plants out. My husband says I will never make it as a proper gardener with silly sentimentality like that. He is probably right.
The whole family is now vying the vegetable beds. Everyone has their top veggies they want to grow. The girls have carrots and peas on the list. My husband is dreaming of rhubarb. My elderly mother absolutely needs to grow potatoes, “at least one little plant to show the girls how it grows”, she says, but I know it’s because that’s how she survived the War.
The day we went to look at the allotment for the first time as a family, it was a bit like American settlers in a run on the Oklahoma land, to stake the territory, a friendly stampede. But we laughed a lot. The girls immediately made chalk drawings on the brick paths and set up a “secret corner”. They measured the lawn to see if a trampoline fits (I do mind but seem to be voted down). They “fished” in the little pond. It was all very noisy and boisterous and the idea of the allotment as my husband’s and mine little bucolic retreat quickly faded away.
It will be a careful balancing act – going there on a regular basis to tend the vegetables while maintaining our current garden next to the house. Looking out from the window now, all I see is the naked ground but I know down to the last centimeter where all my heucherras, hostas, ferns and geraniums are sleeping. I know this garden so well and am committed to it. Hopefully, it is like getting another child – the mother’s heart expands and accommodates love for both, with their different characters and peculiarities. And finds time to look after both. I must go whisper to my sleeping Marmalade, Blushing Turtle and Rozanne that they have nothing to fear.