My father was a office clerk for British Rail which allowed him to rent one of their properties as a home for his family, so my childhood was spent living in an Edwardian station master’s house beside a disused steam railway. The railway was decommissioned the year before my parents moved in and so although the tracks had been removed, there were still a number of things along the line that provided adventure for us as children, such as the platform, signal box and tunnels. The house was in a quarter of an acre of garden and whilst my mother would undoubtedly have preferred something of a more manageable size, to us children the unkempt lawns and overgrown flowerbeds were magical.
At the back of the house was my father’s “allotment” which was basically a huge vegetable patch with mature apple trees and fruit bushes. I loved helping to plant in the spring and harvest in the autumn, though I had other more pressing commitments when it came to removing the weeds that grew in the summer.
When my son was 7 months old my (then) husband and I began renting an allotment of our own: not a large back garden like my father’s but a plot at a managed site about ½ a mile from our house. My interest in “grow your own” reemerged with a vengeance and we began working our way towards self sufficiency as best we could, growing virtually all our own fruit and vegetables, either at the allotment or in our garden. We made use of every available space, even to the point of growing potatoes in our front garden: Tom and Barbara from the Good Life come to mind, though unfortunately we had neither chickens nor a goat called Geraldine.
We took on a 2nd plot and acquired 2 greenhouses (via Freegle, of course), in which we grew everything from peppers to melons and enough tomatoes for me to make and bottle pasta sauce that would last us a full year. It was the same with soft fruits: I would make in the region of 40 jars of both strawberry and raspberry jam, still leaving enough for fresh fruit salads. What we couldn’t grow I would forage and that included elderflower and rosehips for cordials, hazelnuts for chocolate spread and enough blackberries for a freezer full of crumble. I was never without an empty piece of Tuppaware in the car or plastic bags in my handbag, on the off chance that I would come across something worth picking whilst out and about.
With my husband at work all day, the other allotment holders (virtually all retired gents) were used to seeing a woman working our plot, and with 3 August babies in relatively quick succession, they were used to seeing a pregnant woman working our plot……though they never offered to do my digging or push my wheelbarrow for me :).
The children grew up playing on the allotment, having the kind of fun I remember as a child, and just like me, they enjoyed helping. The allotment proved to be an excellent educational resource and so, when we switched to Home Education they each took on responsibility for a small section to cultivate themselves: they chose what to grow, raised their own seedlings, prepared the ground, tended their plants and finally harvested their crops. The girls were keen to eat what they had grown, but it made no difference to the boys: to this day neither will eat vegetables.
A couple of years ago my circumstances changed and we now have a different domestic set up and though it was no longer possible to maintain the same level of self sufficiency, I was keen not to abandon the concept altogether. My partner, Richard, and I took on a section of his Granny’s allotment and cleared a couple of flower beds in our tiny back garden in which to grow fruit and vegetables; we did discuss using the front garden for potatoes, but common sense won the day this time round. Albeit on a much smaller scale, it was good to still be able to grow fresh produce.
Sadly, however, it has all come to a virtual stand still: problems with my back forced me to give up the allotment a year ago and the garden is overgrown now that I am spending so much time working on my business. I keep meaning to free the plants that are currently being strangled by weeds, but there are only so many hours in the day and, just like when I was a child, I always seem to have other more pressing commitments!
I miss my life of self sufficiency. I miss it a lot.
However, I’m still foraging: the elderflowers will be in full flower in a matter of days, which is perfect timing as I have just taken the final bottle out of the freezer from last year.
We plan to move within a year and though a 3rd bedroom is the obvious priority in our next home, a garden big enough to have a small vegetable patch is high on my list. Oh, plus space for our trampoline….