Allotment stories: brewing up in the shed

Brewing up in the shed.

November is an uninspiring time for gardeners. Days are indecently short and the grunt work of weeding and digging isn’t balanced by the usual joy of planting.

But jobs still need to be done and, deserted by our fair-weather friends, we gardeners have to do them. The Reluctant Gardener has found it useful to identify a few motivational tools.

The first is a camping gas stove plus whistling kettle, mug and teabags. I was never one to visit the allotment (or any place) without a Thermos of hot drink (or ‘boil’, as Mr Mandy Sutter calls it) but brewing up in the shed beats the old flask system hands down.

It isn’t just the taste. It’s the walk to the tap, hoping they haven’t turned the water off for the winter. It’s the striking of damp matches on damp box, hoping that something will eventually catch fire. It’s the frequent breaks from digging to peer at the blue flame, hoping the gas hasn’t run out.

The whole process is so fraught and fragile that when the boil finally arrives, it’s a miracle. A worthy substitute for the miracle of seeing plants grow.

Globe artichoke plant and wheelbarrow on our Yorkshire allotment


But lack of plant growth is, paradoxically, motivational tool number two.  Because if plants aren’t growing then nor are weeds. So a cleared, dug-over bed stays cleared and dug over, in a nice plain chocolate brown, un-bespattered by Mother Nature’s green paint pot.

The third tool is the post-gardening bath. There’s no ablution to top it, especially in winter. Aching limbs are caressed by silken oiled water, grime floats out from under fingernails, nettle stings are brutally revived to tingle afresh. The spent gardener lies contentedly under bubble bath foam as a landscape lies beneath clouds.

And then of course there’s that special motivation that comes only from one’s family. Mr MS is also, in his own way, a tool. One afternoon he visits the plot and finds me covered in mud labouring with spade and fork.

‘Don’t overdo it, will you?’ he says. ‘ Sorry, can’t stay, just come to borrow the loppers. Our neighbour needs some help with her bush.’

Later, I hear that while lopping off twigs, he also lops the head off her garden gnome.

But I digress. Mr MS is something of a blurter, and in his brief minutes at the allotment he manages to tell our neighbour that Dad and I call him the Farmer.

‘Funny that,’ says our neighbour, ‘considering I’m a car mechanic.’

Gardening humour: armed gnome

The dead gnome’s mate.

Things have the potential to turn nasty. But they don’t: the Farmer (as I shall persist in calling him) admits that he calls another neighbour, who we know only by the disappointing title of Ian, ‘Mr Windy.’

MS looks at me.The Farmer goes on. ‘He put his shed up in a force ten gale, y’see.’

Mr MS titters obligingly but I see he’s disappointed by the explanation. He goes off muttering something that sounds like ‘cock and balls.’

Later he claims it’s a mnemonic, to help him remember a) to take some soft drink round to Dad’s to save his glass being topped up with hard liquor and b) to ask Dad about crown green bowling.

A likely story.  But I give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s only a matter of time till the decapitated gnome’s mates come calling.