Bertie: “It’s too bleedin ‘ot!”
Bobby: “I know, Bertie. It might help if you took that scarf off!”
Bertie: “No way. I’d feel naked without it.”
Bobby: “You would be!”
Bertie: “And my head is a bit wobbly. The scarf makes it feel tighter.”
Bobby: “Anyway, I reckon the only way to cope with this heatwave is to do everything you want to in the morning. And then crash out in the afternoon when it’s much hotter.”
Bertie: “So what are you doing this morning, Bobby?”
Bobby: “Going over the allotment to see the Sweet Peas.”
Bertie: “Wowwwww. Can I come? You have never taken me!”
Bobby: “Of course you can. I can’t believe I have never taken you over there. Tell you what. How about writing a story about The Allotment?”
And that’s what we did.
The History of Our Allotment
We came to Laurel Cottage in 1999. On the crest of a wave. A wonderful romance and marriage followed. I was Best Man at the wedding in Scotland. Laurel Cottage is a much smaller house than we were used to. Much older too. The garden in particular is tiny by comparison. But now, looking back, Bobby and I and the other bears couldn’t be happier living in Laurel Cottage. It’s a little Victorian paradise. And let’s be fair. He made it the way it is now by four years of real slog. The house and the garden. The garden has been a project ever since.
It must have been around 2008 when Mike next door came round to see Bobby. Mike – known as ‘Superman’ by Diddley.
“An allotment has become available up by the church.”
Now Bobby knew there were some allotments up there, but wasn’t remotely interested…
“It’s very rare that an allotment becomes available.” Said Superman. “There are only seven plots. Two have been neglected, but the lessees won’t give them up and keep paying the lease. Now suddenly one has decided to give up. They are only leased, by the church, to villagers. The lease paid to the Guildford Diocese property team. £10 a year. I have first refusal. Would you like it?”
They went to have a look. The plots are not full size traditional plots. Probably about half size. The two neglected ones had just reverted to weedy grass that Crispin cut now and again.
Crispin is King of the Allotment, married to Queen Victoria. They have a pair next to each other. Superman also has two. And then there was Bob Christmas. A very select little group. A group that would help Bobby feel part of the fabric of the village.
“Yes. I’ll take it!”
And embarked on his latest obsession.
Kitting himself out with a Cornish, spade he dug. And dug. And dug. He was over there night after night after work, for this was a challenge. A local stables delivered a trailer load of stable manure to the Church car park. Standing on top of the trailer, he threw it over the hedge with his new manure fork. And dug it into the allotment.
You need good tools. In Bobby’s case, ones with very long handles! The Cornish shovel is the tool used since time begun for workmen to dig ditches, large holes, graves. The perfect length of handle to lean on; contemplate your work. Light your clay pipe.
The manure fork is just as old fashioned and still better than modern equivalents. Long handle and, like the shovel, sold in all good outlets. Cheaper, most likely, than flashy modern spades and forks with garish colours. The last two tools to the right are very modern Dutch tools. Bought at the National Garden Show with extra long handles. Beautiful quality.
Over the years the runner beans came. The courgettes. The spuds. But, most importantly, he introduced flowers to the allotment. Sweet Peas had been in the wedding bouquet of his first wife in 1966. He had grown them in his home gardens ever since. And each year, the lovely lady of the time would get the first bunch.
The family came to see the allotment culminating in one day in 2010 when a family occasion was enacted at the allotment. Everyone picked Sweet Peas.
But gradually, the reality of ‘allotmenteering’ dawned on him. It’s hard work. Needs dedication. And you need to enjoy it. And this was Bobby’s undoing. He only really likes flowers. Runner Beans were OK because he liked their flowers and chose varieties that had less common flowers. Even white.
And then it all came to a head. He went to the Royal Horticultural Society’s flower show in Westminster. Chatted to a lady owner of a small seed company. Her view was sacrilege to allotmenteers.
“What’s the point in growing vegetables you can buy in Waitrose? Grow ones you can’t get in Waitrose. Like Rainbow Chard. And he did. But nobody ate it. Bobby had often wondered what the point was. Particularly when his Cavolo Nero Kale was infested with Whitefly.
And when one allotmenteer was chucking slug pellets around like confetti. Especially when you had to give away vegetables because there were simply too many on occasions. And when he grew Nasturtiums that spread to all the other allotments. Worst of all was Fennel that infested neighbouring allotments with long tap rooted seedlings.
But most importantly it became an ordeal and the fun had gone. Diddley had lost interest, despite being a vegetarian. And she eventually succumbed to inevitable illness.
Bobby told Superman he was giving it up. He told the Guildford Diocese. There was a waiting list. It would be so much better to see someone really enjoy that allotment. And then Superman had a brilliant idea. His allotment is a series of enclosed raised beds. Would Bobby like one just to grow Sweet Peas and cut flowers? Right next to King Crispin. I can’t tell you how grateful he was.
Not just because he could grow his beloved flowers, but it meant he was still a member of the “allotment society”. Still paying homage to the King and Queen with their wonderful allotments.
Over the years there have been changes. The Church extended the available land to create three more allotments. The remaining abandoned one was transformed into a proper allotment by Ian. A couple of new lessees came in and nowadays the allotments are thriving.
You don’t need a watch. The church bell chimes the time. It has glorious views across the fields and woods to Redlands. It’s very small and peaceful. Actually it’s heaven next door to St Mary Magdalene. Even the water supply comes from within the vicarage garage to a standpipe on the allotment. You could call it “holy water”!
Times have also changed in what people grow. In particular, far more flowers are grown on the allotments which really pleases Bobby.
So he now has the world’s (or at least South Holmwood’s) smallest allotment. Just 4 feet wide by fourteen feet long. So small he can spoil it with large bags of farmyard manure each spring. Years ago he had a large greenhouse and grew everything from seed or cuttings. Nowadays, there are lots of seed companies offering started plants.
He buys the Sweet Peas and Rudbeckias this way, whilst still sowing seeds straight into the ground for Cornflowers and Nigella (love in the mist). This year the started plants were bought from Sarah Raven, and were really impressively packed for delivery. Grown on in pots before transfer to the allotment.
He has terrific admiration for the other allotmenteers, who produce wonderful crops with hard work and dedication.
A Day at the Allotments. (or just an hour)
Bertie: “Come on, Bobby. I want to see the allotment.”
Bobby: “It’s only a short walk, Bertie, but as it’s you I’ll carry you in the Waitrose bag with some tools.”
And here is…
The Smallest Allotment in the World
A Quick Tour of the Other Allotments
Lighting a Candle for Diddley and for the Fruits of our Labour
Lucinda Williams. A favourite singer of ours sings “Fruits of my Labor”.