Somethings stirring amongst the sheds....plotting amongst the parsnips...bickering amongst the beans...
There's been much discussion amongst allotmenteers recently over the BBC program 'Allotment Wars' that was broadcast on the 22nd of January. Many seem very upset that gardening is being represented in such a negative and competitive manner, but I argue there's something to be learnt from the darker side, why should we pretend it's all 'The Good Life'?
This programme brought us several examples of garden warfare: weed killer deliberately put in water supplies, greenhouse arson, carrot theft, plot vigilante armies, snail and slug plagues, tea&biscuit burglars and two neighbours who really shouldn't be trusted to handle sharp tools within range of each others throats!
Despite such traumas, I didn't think the programme did any harm to the reputation of the green-fingered. One of the main reasons why I got interested in gardening in the first place was due to the quintessential British eccentricity that follows it! My family don't escape this brand, but we celebrate it! Trust me, I have inherited 5 'Man Sheds' - I know what lies beneath!
The world is full of different (and difficult!) 'characters', why should allotments be an exception? Personally, the bus is my prime position to observe crazy human behaviour, that beats the allotment every time! Of course allotments have always been prime locations for outsider-crime, those who stupidly think power tools are kept on site to steal, or who just enjoy smashing things, or think nothing of helping themselves to crops like they're in the Co-op. The darker side of the programme was the suggestion that fellow-plot holders were responsible for such deeds as burning down a greenhouse full of crops, or stealing vegetables days before the judging. As one gentleman on the programme states: "I'd tar and feather 'em".
I have met a variety of people in the world of gardening, and being a woman in her early 20s (and often wearing dog-print-wellingtons) I might have had my fair share of remarks and speculations, even being mistaken for an allotment intruder on one memorable occasion! But lets focus on the most important factor, we're all fighting the same battle - the chance to prosper and live in harmony with nature! Isn't that a lovely, attractive prospect rather than one of constant scrutiny and stress?
We are so proud to talk about our WW2 approach to the 'Dig For Victory' campaign, and how we kept the countries supplies running in the face of such trauma, creating allotments from bomb sites and planting potatoes in the hedgerows. It would seem that now we aren't fully dependant on our personal crops to survive, we seem to be losing that sense of unity for the land we culture together. Gardening is a constant battle, but it shouldn't be with each other.
The image of allotments providing a sanctuary for men to escape their wives IS still a prominent stereotype of gardeners, but we still haven't learned to laugh at it. Is the vision of an old boy in a hand-knitted jumper grasping a thermos and a cheese sandwich really so terrible? Or is it actually a celebration of our beloved traditions?
They stated that 50% of allotments are now held by women, so we can relax in the knowledge that women can rule the plot too! I appreciated that in Allotment Wars they showed a woman's shed of escapism, courtesy of Michelle and her beyond girlie cupcake-themed grotto ( But I bet plenty were snorting at her scented candles and polkadots, so it might not have been the best example.) With fake nails that long and sparkly I have no idea how she turns over the compost heap, but she certainly puts the effort into that shed, shame someone was intent on spoiling it for her! In this modern world of stress and constant technological bombardment, I sincerely wish that many future generations will be escaping to their sheds for decades to come!
Any competition has the potential to turn even the most well-meaning into adrenaline fuelled prize-addicts, no point pretending allotment shows are different! Of course it should all just be enjoyable and a celebration of everyones hard work, but we don't often allow ourselves to just indulge in fun - better make it a fight to the death instead!
I always find the judges at shows the most amusing feature, some rarely raise a smile, just give the occasional raise of an eyebrow as they prod a slightly under-proved parsnip. But it's no different to the wonderful ladies of the WI and their famous victoria sponge battles! Come on, can't we admit that it's all a hoot? Celebrate these very British quirks, and don't be sensitive when others join in!
The scene where an allotment committee actually locked a tenant inside the facility and called the police due to unpaid rent was utterly farcical, and I can't understand how he remained so polite, although one could argue he was purposely playing victim to the camera, two sides of every story! No matter what the details, it's true that people with time on their hands and a certain level of authority can turn into ruthless vigilantes, I bet we all know some local organisation where the committee are the key off-putting factor! I imagine many PTA and Neighbourhood Watch meetings up and down the UK are no different *shudder*.
Maybe 'Allotment Wars' should have placed more emphasis on the benefits of what gardening brings us, but it was shown at gone 10pm - they wanted some drama! It was intended to be lighthearted, I think they just wanted the silly beggars to have a nice cup of tea together and forget about all that silliness. Or if that wasn't an option, have a duel with their prize winning carrots!
It's all too easy to project the stresses from home or work onto our hobbies, but horticulture is a very effective therapy, one of the most beneficial activities we can do...IF we give it a bloomin' chance to work it's magic, we should be the happiest people of all!
The allotment trend has been growing for a good few years now, the waiting lists are still packed with those demanding a piece of the action, so I don't really think that slapping on the stereotypes for another term would affect that. I just want to mention, the cream of the crop, the lovely Monty Don himself admits on his Twitter "Sorry, but I do not answer horticultural questions via Twitter" - is it me, or could this suggest even the Mr Darcy of the BBC gardening clan could be a closet grump? Monty, I would only love you more if that's true.
Gardening hasn't been this attractive to society in decades, those who have been working hard at it for years must be willing to accept that there will always be an influx of novices and hobbyists! The odd friendly bit of advice over the fence every now and again is priceless, and of course you can have a secret chuckle when they make a faux-pas, just don't revel in it! If people aren't looking after their plots, they will be put back on the market, and those who have taken it to their hearts long ago will still be ploughing on as usual! I think the grumpiness is just inherited after years of battling against mother nature and our own human errors. The way I like to think of it: I bet even the most stoney-faced gardener will give a little smile to the plucky Robin who perches on the spade to watch him work.
Thank you for reading, as always!