There are a lot of social people on this allotment. People seem to be curious about who has taken over a disused plot and what they plan to do with it. James and I are comparatively young, and when I tell the first person I speak to that this is our first allotment, the idea seems to go round that we are novices. This is slightly deceptive, since James is a gardening obsessive and has a great depth of book learning, if not quite as much practical experience. We’ve been growing vegetables and fruit in our garden at home for years.
During the first half hour of today’s digging, I am approached by the friendly woman who talked to us when we first came by to inspect the plot. She hands me a stack of seed packets, surplus from her job at a gardening centre, and wishes me the best of luck. When she’s gone, I look through my loot: beetroot, turnips, courgettes, leeks, a tasty-looking variety of winter squash, carrots, swiss chard and purple sprouting broccoli. I’d already planned to sow some summer squash (patty pans and courgettes — or as I prefer to call them, zucchini), and I might as well put in some winter squash while I’m at it.
I go back to digging up grass roots. By and by another old man strolls up with a dog. He stops a few yards away from our plot, grabs his dog by the collar and clips a lead onto it, crying ‘Stay, girl, calm down now,’ before ambling up to where I am now standing, amused. ‘Hello, my gel!’ he cries, and then speaks again urgently to the dog: ‘Whoa, now, sit girl!’ He manages to give the impression that he is barely restraining the beast from tearing my throat out. The dog, a small, grizzled, black-haired creature that looks about twenty years old, sighs and leans against his leg for support. ‘You’ve got quite a job there, my gel!’
We briefly discuss the history of the plot. My visitor expresses annoyance with the council for cutting down a row of old grape vines whose roots I have just been struggling with, and encourages me to keep up the good work. ‘The first year on an allotment is always the hardest. Better you than me, gel!’ he chuckles as he leads his dog out the gate.