My daughter holds a caterpillar in her hand, determined to take the pale, earth covered creature home as a newly beloved addition to our family. She proudly introduces ‘Pillar’ around the group of gardeners who, taking a rest from shovelling farm yard manure onto the allotment beds, lean on tool handles and smile indulgently in turn. We all wonder whether it will become a moth or a butterfly, and we all want it far, far away from our budding vegetable plots.
It’s the day of the Big Dig at Queens Park Allotment, the annual get together to spruce up the plots and get ready for the gardening year ahead. After a long winter, punctuated by snow days and frosts, the soil is finally waking up and the weeds are poking belligerently through – a sure sign that it’s time to move from planning into seed sowing action.
Maggie Turp, the organiser of the community gardening group, has coordinated delivery of new bark chip for the paths and enormous bags of dark rich manure to feed the beds, both generously donated by the park staff. As a group of around 10-15 gardeners we make short work of these supplies. Soon the allotment transforms from its slightly bedraggled post winter state into an ordered space of trim paths and lush looking plots awaiting fresh new growth.
As we shovel, weed and dig we discuss our growing plans for the year. One plot owner has decided to keep things simple – planting only squash, turnips and parsnips. He is a patient man, sowing in the blossom filled spring with dreams of roasted vegetables in the autumn and winter months. Other members of the group have only just acquired a plot and have the recognisable shiny eyed zeal of the newly initiated. They want to plant as many different types of plants as could possibly fit in their allotted rectangle.
A couple, who have been industriously working away at their plot despite the colder months, already have a harvest on their hands: an abundant crop of purple sprouting broccoli. They kindly share the produce around and we all manage to take a little bit of the first harvest of the year home with us.
By the time I’m ready to leave, the farm yard manure has been distributed across the site, the emptied canvas bags piled high by the compost bins. I’ve checked the tiny seedlings bursting through the soil in my shared plot and, following a quick weather check, have given them some water from the water butt. Invigorated by the work and with a bag of freshly picked vegetables in tow I feel the satisfaction that seems to come hand in hand with communal allotment gardening.
Waving my goodbyes to the group I see that Maggie is in the process of digging trenches in one of the three communal beds, demonstrating how to sow seed potatoes. I can’t wait to see how the garden will evolve and emerge over the coming months. My daughter can’t wait to see how ‘Pillar’ will evolve and emerge over the coming months, from its new home in our privet hedge.
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