Just over a year ago, I dug up four apple trees, put them into a Nissan Micra and drove them across Leeds.
I’m not sure I recommend it–the lack of visibility when driving with four small trees in your car is pretty bloody ridiculous– but I’m glad that I did. I re-planted them all in my new allotment and waited with bated breath to see if I’d killed them, in my greedy desire not to lose them after nearly eight years’ worth of care on my previous plot. To my absolute joy, all four of them have survived. I’ve had small apples from three of them (which will, I’m sure, be back to their usual size next year) and the usual none from Blenheim Orange, which only fruits every two years and needs a lot of encouragement and two different pollinating apple trees to do even that. Typical heritage variety! But I had leaves on them all; they made it through the journey.
The first year of having this new plot has been a journey too. One of excellent highs, like our communal supper, but also some really sad lows, as I’ve realised how neglected it has been. Moving further away from the allotment site, dealing with lots of personal challenges and juggling my work and family commitments have all taken their toll. I’ve seen friends take on plots and manage them better than I have, in a much shorter amount of time. It’s been hard not to be despondent about it; I didn’t think I’d be taking care of it on my own. I didn’t think I’d have to move fifteen miles away…
Despite all my neglect though, I’ve had quite a bit of success. I’ve grown three different varieties of potatoes, four varieties of apple (one type from the tree that I inherited on my new plot) and tonnes of pears. The gooseberry bush has been a prolific fruiter, and my garlic has grown well. I’ve grown broad beans and beetroot. My sweetcorn was a disaster for the first time ever, but I know I planted it out too late. I’ve grown strawberries and French beans, outdoor tomatoes and lots of sweet smelling herbs. I need to remember all of this, when I’m standing in the middle of the site, wondering how the hell I will do all the work on my own.
This weekend was annual rent payment time. Traditionally, the highest turnover time, as people make their decisions to stay or go. I’ve been debating the decision myself. Worrying that having the allotment is just another reason to be stressed. Just another job that remains unfinished, another never-ending ‘to-do’ list.
But then, my dear friend Jo (who has the plot over the path from me) suggested an entire weekend of allotment work, with a bed for me at her house on Saturday night, removing the need to drive those fifteen miles each way. Two long days of digging, planning, connecting with our soil. And so we did.
We spent all of Saturday digging and all of Saturday night chatting, drinking prosecco, talking allotment plans. And then all of Sunday digging, chatting to other plot holders over tea and flapjacks and then planting my Amsterdam tulips. There’s still lots to do: beds to build, compost bins to replace, a shed to buy. But you have no idea how happy I am, on Sunday night, to be so tired I can barely type because of all the work I’ve put in.
2016 marks the ten year anniversary of my life as an allotment holder. As a pregnant thirty year old, with a fascination for self-sufficiency that–at the time–left everyone around me baffled, getting my first allotment was a dream come true. Nearly ten years later, that dream has turned into something I need. It’s more than just a piece of land. Allotment gardening is a place of hope, of calm, of peace. It’s a place for conversation and community, but also quiet contemplation. It’s where I escape my desk and my stress. Where I find pleasure in the smallest victory and a deep connection to the power of nature. I’m pretty convinced that it’s essential to my wellbeing and I highly recommend it to everyone.
And so, on Sunday morning, I renewed my vows. Handing my rent payment over for another year, I made a promise to love my plot. To devote more time and commitment to it. To make all my plans come true.
If nothing else, I owe it to my beloved apple trees…
Read my post from last year here.