I’m not going to lie, I did have visions of my seven-year-old son Michael and I wafting around an allotment hand-in-hand, donning checked shirts, casually picking our own hard-gown vegetables and proudly placing them in one of those ‘wooden vegetable-picking baskets’ – I just Googled and the correct term is a Trug – but you get my drift.
However, that’s not quite how the story has played out so far, but it’s certainly been a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Yep, you guessed it, I’ve joined the lockdown veg-growing revolution, and got myself an allotment plot.
Having recently moved to Reigate, in Surrey, and being cooped up in a flat with my son during the restrictions, I missed having outside space. And I know we shouldn’t give over to Insta-envy, but I felt that I hadn’t really achieved much during lockdown. Everyone seemed to have used the time to pursue new hobbies, build successful business empires or turn into Mr Motivator and subsequently be in the best shape of their lives. What have I done? Apart from sitting at home in leggings, working long hours, tearing my hair out trying to teach my son about the Great Fire of London and getting on first name terms with our Deliveroo driver, not much really. Hardly surprising, I was feeling pretty down in the dumps.
Then, as I was scrolling through our local “We Love Reigate” Facebook page (yes it was a Friday night in Lockdown), I came across a post from Stuart Pearce, who was giving away a couple of beds on his sizeable allotment plot for local people to cultivate for free. Stuart, who described himself to me as, “a boring analyst for a financial services company and keen micro- farmer” has had the plot for five years and grows a whole host of veg very successfully including: sweetcorn, asparagus, lettuce, spring onions and kale. But as work got busy during the pandemic, he thought he would give some local people the chance to try their hand at growing their own and offer a few beds out. I contacted him about the possibility of Michael and I taking one on, and he generously said we could cultivate a patch. Michael was delighted – my family thought I was mental, and my friend’s thought that I was having a mid-life crisis.
Michael and I went down to meet Stuart, who quickly added us to the Plot A1 WhatsApp group he had set up for his section of the allotment. He showed us around, gave us access to all his tools and also suggested that the patio area, overlooking the rugby pitch and Reigate Hill, was the perfect spot for an afternoon G&T (I began to think I would like this allotment business after all). But, joking aside, what Stuart’s done is given a range of different people who, due to a huge swell in allotment plot waiting lists as a result of the pandemic, a chance to experience the joy of trying something new (and, alright, the chance to gloat on social media that you’ve joined the ‘Pandemic Overachievers Club’ and turned into Charlie Dimmock).
And so, Michael and I set about researching the veg we could plant during May and planning where we were going to put everything. One evening we turned up at the plot to pull out all the weeds and grass that had grown over the bed to prepare the plot for planting. Stuart had told us about a 94-year-old man name Phil, who still tended his crop every day, and owned the plot next to his. Seeing him on entry, we waved a quick hello and went about our business. Not being able to find a shovel in the box that Stuart had kindly left open, we set about pulling out clumps of weeds and grass with our hands (and new gloves I had purchased, so we looked the part). Michael wanted me to ask Phil if we could borrow his shovel, but not wanting to look rude, I said no. Undeterred and determined to get the job done quicker, Michael decided to take matters into his own hands and go on the charm offensive with old Phil. “This is such hard work, it would be so much better if we only had a shovel,” he said just loud enough for old Phil to hear. “Do you want to borrow mine then young man?”, he said. “Oh, that would be lovely, thank you, are you sure that’s ok? That is very kind,” replied Michael. Two minutes later Michael had old Phil skimming our patch with his shovel. Subcontracting out the hard work. I was impressed.
Apart from telling you that we opted for lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes for our plot, I won’t go into the detail of the trials and tribulations of planting. But I will tell you that after a few weeks of carefully watering and watching for the leaves to expand and fatten, we went down after school to find that some deer had got in overnight and had an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet with our would-be produce. Michael was close to tears whilst I was ready for a gin.
Promising him that I’d protect what was left, I cycled down early one morning to set about binning the deer’s half-bitten leftovers and constructing some sort of World War II wired fort around what remained. Old Phil was there, and I waved a good morning. Half-an-hour in, I was sweating buckets, mud over my face and feet (as I had worn polka dot flip flops – I know, not very sensible but was overexcited about the glorious weather), when old Phil came over. “You should get your husband to do that digging for you,” he said – eyes twinkling and looking the picture of health. “I don’t have a husband,” I replied. “But who buys your shoes?” he said looking bemusedly at my poor choice of footwear. “I buy my own shoes,” I laughed back as Phil was clearly from life before equality – but still very endearing.
Since then, we still have the wired fort in situ and haven’t had any run-ins with the deer. We’re about to put in some runner-beans where the lettuce once was and I have used the little oasis to sit outside in nature, feel the sun on my face and get some quiet thinking time, away from the computer screen and home-working. Although we’re novices, it’s been a great experience so far and I’m looking forward to tasting the fruits of our labour and sharing it with others – just like Stuart.
Corinne McPartland is Communications Lead, Disputes, at Herbert Smith Freehills