Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Do Allotments and Little People Mix?

Or do allotments and babies go together like slugs and lettuce - naturally in theory but in practice a big NO!

One of the reasons I started this blog, among a myriad of very boring ones, was to show it was possible to keep your allotment while busily growing a family. It's something I feel quite passionate about.

I read with a twinge of sadness and a heap of understanding when Jane Perrone, the author of The Allotment Keeper's Handbook, recently wrote about her decision to give up her allotment.

Starting a family is undeniably life-changing but with a lowering of standards (or none at all in my case), a dash of selfishness and a bit of determination I really believe that allotment lovers can hold onto their plots.

This is the time when both could benefit hugely from having an allotment: cheap, organic veggies (good for breastfeeding mums, tired dads and weaning babes); somewhere safe and immersed in nature that's a change of scene from the back garden (change being as good as a rest); a sense of community (vital for mums who can feel isolated) and the chance of a bit of guilt-free peace (essential for sanity saving). Frankly, my allotment is the only space on this planet that I don't have to share and where I selfishly do what I want.

I know how hard it can be; our youngest used to cry when at the plot which I eventually neglected until allotment administrator grumpily threatened to give it to someone else. I shouldn't have let it get into such a state but it was the kick-start I needed. This year's different due partly to increased energy levels and playgroup looming on the horizon.

I found it harder to keep up with the allotment when pregnant. Rewind to a year ago and I'd do things differently - I'd cover half my plot with weed suppressing material or green manures and plant easy veg, brought from garden centres, in the rest. Onions, garlic, strawberries, runner beans, sunflowers, rhubarb and probably a space hogging courgette or two would the absolute most I would grow.

Once baby is here looking after a little one is, I think, easier, especially if you're breastfeeding. A bench, picnic rug, buggy or sling and the book Lia Leendertz's book The Half Hour Allotment are essential.

I know gardening is even easier at home; I'm growing veggies in pots and have lots of seedlings on the go for my containers and the allotment. Doing it this way means I get the best of both worlds - Dressing Gown Gardening and Pottering and Escapism Gardening.

But with the advent of huge waiting lists now at most sites, guilt is bound to set in when the weeds do. Should we be so hard on ourselves? It's not our fault councils are failing to provide enough allotments. And what if it is Mr Jones, on the normally productive end plot, who through no fault of his own is temporarily struggling to maintain his plot this season? Would we demand that he be turfed off or would we cut him some slack?

I know names can always be added to a waiting list a couple of years down the line but I think the satisfaction of Keeping On is immense and not to be underestimated. Just lower expectations and think of visiting the allotment as you would a trip to the park; little and often and heaps more interesting. The early years really do, sadly, go by in a blink. That's the one thing that sustained me during my dark allotment days - things could only get easier, time and energy would become more abundant.

I don't want to elbow the traditional, retired chaps off allotments but I'd love to see an army of mums or dads growing their own on sites, with a babe on a blanket legs wiggling, digging for a better, healthier life.


  1. I enjoyed this post. It was very well written and obviously from the heart. I dont have an allotment (but am considering it) but I do know that weeding the garden helped me to maintain my sanity when the children were little

  2. To steal a phrase from another blogger: you grow, girl! I'm open0mouthed with admiration, and I'm sure your children will benefit in so many ways - not just fresh, homegrown food, but fresh air, learning about plants and wildlife, knowing that effort has to precede result; all kinds of things. The most important things.

  3. Lovely post Mrs Be. I love the fact that people come up to our allotments with their families.

    I always remember talking to a family a couple of years ago who were deciding whether to take on a plot. They munched away on various things whilst we nattered away and I generally enthused at them. Then the eldest child (about 8) announced she wanted to grow Autumn Bliss raspberries on her bit of patch. Guess what they'd been eating over at mine!

    BTW they decided to take the plot.

  4. I LOVE your photo at the beginning of this post!

    It certainly is a challenge, gardening with little ones under foot, but your are so right about the benefits for the entire family. Far too many children are sitting in front of the TV or computer when they should be outside breathing in all that fresh air, playing in the dirt, and learning about the magic of bugs, soil, and green growing things.

  5. Oh, absolutely you are on the right track! In retrospect I could have done so much more when Antonia was a wee thing. I did have a garden, though small, but I didn't maximize it. I was such a beginner. Continue to be a champion for this vision you have. It's the BEST!
    And remember that while community gardens are on the rise in America, most of us don't have a clue what an allotment is. As usual UK/Europe is so far ahead in social realm.

  6. It took me a bit to understand what an allotment was..am I right in assuming that it is something like a community garden which gives individuals small gardening plots of their own? I think we have such a thing in big cities, of course, I've never lived in a big city. While you were making the point I suddenly became aware of just how fortunate I am to have 6 acres all of my own and you have made me appreciate it all the more. Thanks...and I adore the name of your blog.

  7. Bravohhh!! Really good point that towns/councils might just want to look into more *space* for gardens. And that it is your space, as important as anyone's. So so so important.

  8. thanks for all your kind comments.

    I'm sheepishly admitting that I thought *everyone* knew what an allotment was, but I guess that's a quirky UK name.

    So yes, for US readers, it is a community garden where people primarily grow veggies and some cut flowers.

    Rhonda, I'd love to have six acres, you're very lucky! Hubby chose the name of the blog, he thinks it's the best bit....!

  9. Having a little one whos just turned one is difficult at the best of times, but being able to escape into the garden and feel the sunshine on your face is the best way to end a day. I can't wait to introduce her to the delights of everything green.

  10. I never realized how much I take my backyard for granted - my space saving square foot garden isn't really to save space - it's because it's easier. I think there are a few community garden places here - I'm gonna mention it to my sister, who has no yard.
    Thanks for an inspiring post :)
    ~plantgirl of
    Square Foot Garden Blog