Advice · Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: allotment

There have been 207 “Word of the week” pieces on this Blog so far. From 1 February 2016, when I decided to post them exclusively on Mondays, there was an unbroken run of 24 weeks each featuring a word that was either in the news or relevant to what I was doing or reading at the time. These days it would more accurate to label these pieces as “Word of the month”, such are the gaps between them.

From time to time I come across a word multiple times in the course of a week or two and that will be enough to prompt a piece like this one. Four different groups of people that I have been speaking to in the last fortnight have been telling me about their allotments. Two of them have taken on allotments for the first time this spring. In case you’re not familiar with this decidedly English word, the National Allotment Society has this description:

An allotment is an area of land, leased either from a private or local authority landlord, for the use of growing fruit and vegetables. In some cases this land will also be used for the growing of ornamental plants, and the keeping of hens, rabbits and bees …

Allotments are similar to Community Gardens in North America and Canada.

Whenever I get into a discussion about allotments I always say the same thing, based on advice from George Monbiot that I read many years ago. If you get one that’s all rubble and weeds it’s not worth trying to pick out all the rocks and uproot the unwanted plants: cover it with a thick damp-proof membrane for a year to kill off everything, then cover it with a few tons of topsoil, knowing that there’s nothing under it that is going to work its way through. You can leave for it a year and end up with a much better quality plot than you could have achieved in five years. If the plot has been well maintained by its previous occupants, you can start planting and growing immediately.

Monbiot’s advice can be found on his website, here, more or less as I remembered it. It originally appeared in the Guardian, where I first read it. I am, once again, shocked to find out how long ago that was: 17 years have passed since its publication in October 2005. Before looking it up I would have sworn that it was sometime in the last decade.

As a family, what have we grown in the last 17 years? A son, who was just under a year old when Monbiot published that piece, and a daughter, who was born more than a year later. They are now 18 and 16, old enough to put in an occasional shift on other people’s allotments, if they feel so inclined. As of this month, we know of four groups of people who might be grateful for some help.


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