Dear John…..

Yesterday I read a lovely post on WellyWoman’s blog which was a Love Letter to her allotment written especially for National Allotment Week. WW’s plot is exactly the same size as mine and like  me she  has  had it  for 18 months, there isn’t even that much difference in the amount of rent we pay.  WW obviously loves her plot and it has made a real difference to her life.  This got me thinking about  writing a similar sort of post about my plot.

However, and there is always a however, I think mine would be more of a Dear John letter.  Our relationship is definitely not at its best and thoughts of giving the allotment up have  drifted into my mind a number of times over the last six months.

Now this isn’t a moan about the weather and slugs making it hard to grow anything it is more a case that we are just not compatible, mis-matched so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong I am proud of what I have achieved and as regular long-term readers will know getting an allotment had a knock on effect of involving my parents which then led to my Mum getting half a plot.  This has been such a wonderful thing and has had such a positive effect on her dealing with her grief over losing my sister that no matter what I decide to do I won’t regret the effort we put in.  I also wonder if in some way the allotment has  helped me with the grief.  It was very difficult last year especially when my parents were helping me and we had some fraught times and disagreements but we have worked through them and are stronger and closer for it.  Looking back I find myself wondering whether the allotment acted as a catalyst for us resolving these issues.  It is amazing how much you can resolve and how difficult a subject you can discuss when you  are both head down, bum in the air, digging up couch grass!

I like being at the plot when I am there but that is the problem getting there both time and distance.  The site is surrounded by fields and first thing on a Sunday morning when you are the only one there, listening to the bird singing, watching the rabbits frolics (opps they aren’t meant to be ) and admiring the horses in the neighbouring field it is wonderful. But, I work full-time  generally a 40 hr week which leaves little time for other things.  My weekends are precious  and I am spending Sunday mornings at the plot, coming home and wishing I had more time to spend in my garden which is weedy and neglected.  The plot  is eating up the time I would spend tending the garden.  I told myself last year that the first year would be tough as it was a virgin plot but no matter what anyone tells you even when you have cleared the plot you still need to spend the same amount of time there.  I’m not afraid of hard work but it’s the logistics.  The plot is 15 min drive each  way so I have to organise having the time to go there when really what I would rather do is potter outside in the garden when it suits me.  I have tried to go on the way home from work.  This doesn’t work when the weather is warm as it is just too hot at that time of day to be weeding etc, and I am generally really tired and hungry so clock watching.

Then there are the quantities – it’s all or nothing.  I seem to be forever giving crops away or even, heaven forbid, putting them on the compost bin.  I find myself questioning the whole thing.  I put all this time and physical effort in, as well as some finances, to grow some veg which may or may not result in a harvest only for me to ditch a load of it.  I have a constant battle between only growing enough for my needs and filling up the space.  I was amused when my neighbouring plot holder told me he was thinking of taking up his paths to maximise the growing space when I was considering covering up more ground.  When my youngest is away at University it is only really me that eats the crops and a 20m x 6m plot is a lot for one person!

I have also realised that whilst I like food I’m not a foodie.  I have no real interest in growing unusual  stuff and spending large amounts of time preserving etc.  I’m not that big a potato fan preferring rice and pasta.  I enjoy growing salads, rhubarb, black kale, gooseberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes but these  alone would only fill a third of the plot.   I want to be able to wander up the garden when I get home from work and pick a courgette or two, maybe some salad leaves. Not as is the case now fit in a trip to the plot  on the way home on a day when I don’t have to rush back to do dinner because I or one of the boys has to get somewhere else.

I  think the fact that the photo at the top of this post is my favourite from the photos I took at the allotment this evening says it all.  I simply am not an veg/fruit grower,  it doesn’t float my boat as they used to say.  I don’t get depressed when I lose a whole  crop to some bug and I thought this was because I had low expectations in the first place but now I think it’s just because I don’t really care that much – how awful is that.  When I raised it a few months ago with Mum she said I should  plant more fruit bushes, more perennial veg, maybe lay  some turf!  But that all still  needs maintaining and still  takes me away from my first much neglected love – my garden.

So I am pondering what to do.  I want to grow some veg and fruit, the things I have listed above but I don’t think I can sustain my relationship to the plot for another year.  I don’t think  counselling or an intermediary would work or even a trial separation.  My eldest and I have discussed a couple of times putting in some raised beds in the garden where I could grow some veg.  I want something ornamental, beautiful, on the doorstep and I think we have a plan which he says is achievable.  I just need to measure up and see whether the area would work in terms of growing space.  It would be something along the square metre idea of growing veg . I’m  not rushing into the decision as I  don’t have to pay the rent again for a few months and it would be good to time it so I could re-locate some of the fruit  bushes in the autumn if I decide to give it up – so we shall see.




35 Comments Add yours

  1. Gwen says:

    Oh Helen, I understand totally how you are feeling. I’ve gone through exactly the same myself. I only had half a plot, and I am retired. But like you, I had a 15 minute drive each way to the site, no shed, so had to make sure I had everything with me and load up the car and unload everything when I got home. Husband not a gardener, so no help. Younger son was supposed to help, but after the initial enthusiasm, and a house move, I was left to work it on my own . I absolutely loved being at the site, but I do have a large garden here, which has sadly been very neglected this year. I am also very involved with the pelargonium society, and my own local societies and I do grow salads & beans and things here that need picking regularly. So last month I made the decision to give up my plot – there was a waiting list, and I felt it wrong of me to struggle with something when someone else would make better use of the plot than me. I’m not trying to persuade you Helen, just letting you know my feelings and sympathising with you. xx

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Gwen and thank you. My plot is looking well looked after well compared to many but thats because of the amount of time and energy I am putting in and its time and energy that I want to use for other things like you. I am increasingly interested in alpines and I want to go to the AGS meetings as well as the HPS ones and again these all take time.

      I suspect I will just have to trust my instincts when I make the decision one way or another

  2. It seems as you wrote your blog post, you decided. I can understand the appeal of an allotment for someone living in a flat in a city – but if your own garden is calling … it’s a no-brainer?

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Diana – yes I suppose it is a no-brainer but I think what is making me hesitate is the effort and time I have already put into the plot and whether if I stick at it a bit longer it will get better.

  3. Christina says:

    The distance from home to allotment is critical, WW and the one I had in the UK were 5 minutes away, I count pop over to pick a few salald leaves etc. if I need some. you always said that you weren’t interested in growing veg and it takes time and commitment; timing is more critical than in a garden. If having really fresh, organic food that tastes special every time really isn’t important to you, you have your answer. You cound of course have a half a plot like your mum? Christina

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Christina – you are right I have always said I wasnt interested in veg growing. However when I was offered the plot I thought if I didnt give it a go I would always wonder. Having gthe plot has made realise I do like growing some veg but possibly not on the scale of an allotment. The distance is critical especially when you have to work as well. I can imagine if I didnt work then spending a couple of afternoons or so at the plot would be absolutely fine but with time, and energy, at a premium I am thinking I am trying to spread myself too thinly and generally becoming dis-satisfied.

  4. Anna says:

    A difficult decision to make Helen. I remember trying to fit the allotment in when I was working and it was a struggle at times, especially as it always seemed to rain at the weekends. Even now it is difficult to keep on top of both garden and allotment as well as fit in other activities. We plan to move in the future and ideally our next garden will include a veggie plot when I can just nip out and potter at will. For now though I will continue with the allotment mainly for the social contact it provides. I think that the giving away your produce is part of the pleasure of growing and inevitable unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time pickling, preserving etc. Whatever you decide you still have had the great experience of trying it out and have no doubt learned much in the process.

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Anna
      I would love a garden with enough room for a veg patch but then the boys point out to me that I do have room for a veg patch!! I just have to give up some ornamental space to do so. However the front garden project which has ground to a halt due to the time and energy spent at the allotment will give me more ornamental space so I can free up some space in the back garden – just pondering on where and what and how to make it look good

  5. Yvonne Ryan says:

    Yvonne – NZ — Time to ‘Smell the roses”!! don’t you think?? Just have herbs and salades in raised bed or like me in old square re-clycling bins (with hole in bottom) and ENJOY your garden. Don’t carry on with allotment if not enjoying “Life too short to drudge away at something NOT enjoying” You can always go and talk to the horses when you have time! Much cheaper to buy veg at supermarket or Farmers Markets (if you have one close)!!!

    1. patientgardener says:

      HI Yvonne Yes it is easier to buy the veg at the supermarket and farmers market and we are lucky living in the country to have some very good ones around here. Life is too short and I so dont want to be a drudge!! Thanks for your support

  6. Holleygarden says:

    I can totally understand. I’ve broken up with my vegetable bed. It’s just too hot, it’s too much food, it takes time away from my roses, and I really just want a few salads. Of course, when the weather is cooler I will probably feel differently. But at least my vegetable garden is in the front yard! If I had to drive to it, I never would! If vegetable gardening doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it, and don’t feel guilty. I wouldn’t grow roses if I didn’t like them!

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi HG – yes I have more or less decided that veg growing doesnt make me happy. I dont get the same from it as I do when I plant a border or have been through deadheading. Thanks for your support

  7. Jennifer says:

    I can understand. With the changes going on in our house (new baby) we don’t even have time for the vegetable garden immediately outside our door. A 15 minute drive sounds reasonable, but somehow never is when you factor everything else in. I can also understand the rain/drought situation with vegetable produce. Our next door neighbor just harvest 12 cucumbers from his vine (singular) Sunday and was giving them away to all the neighbors.

    Are you allowed to grow non-edibles in your allotment? (In the US you could have all flowers in your community garden, if desired) Would it be a place to help grow/place/harden off all your seedlings? I thought you were mentioning once thinking about more propogating/growing from seed. Or would they need too much tending–which just gets you back to the long drive.

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Jennifer. Well remembered I did talk about using it for propogating etc originally. However, the rules of the site are that I have to have a certain percentage of edibles plus I’m not allowed to use it for commercial production. I have already got several pots of wallflower seedlings to plant out at the site just to fill beds over the winter but I would still need to do the travelling, weed it etc. Writing the post has really made me think about how much time I spend there and how mucch time I’m not spending in the garden which I m beginning to begrudge

  8. Jamie says:

    I agree with Christina, Helen. That distance to the plot is a burden. Vegies are a fair bit of work even when they’re just 10 or 20 yards from your back door, so I admire your perseverence in doing all that travelling, no doubt in all sorts of weather, too. It does sound like you’ve made up your mind, and it is something you can now speak about with authority, haven given it a good try. Should someone ever try to suggest you start up vegie gardening again you have the perfect answer.

    If you want to grow something edible in your own garden, herbs are an often fragrant-foliaged delight well suited to pots, and in many cases one plant is sufficient (eg, sage, thyme, rosemary). Basil is the nicest thing to be around in summer. And any fences in need of a green cover can always host beans or peas, so I am sure you’ll be putting your vegie-growing experience to good use in years to come.

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Jamie – thanks. The idea of growing things up the fence in the garden has already been considered as I have a couple of berries at the plot I would want to keep. You are right I think I have made the decision. The stumbling block will be telling my parents, even at the age of 46 I still worry about these things! They helped with a lot of the initial digging so I dont want them to be cross about the effort they put in.

  9. Really interesting post, I suspect issues many of us with allotments have raised at times. I’ve had on and off thoughts about giving up my allotment, though I love veg growing and I love being at the lottie. Health has been more an issue for me. For now I’m keeping it as I luckily have the support of my partner. And it does give me a lot of pleasure. But like you said, it is a lot of work and it does take me away from my home garden which also needs quite a lot of work and which I love.

    I’d encourage you to grow edibles and flowers together. I’ve been developing an edible garden with my front garden (i.e. and though still work in progress, I’ve been getting a nice mix of food and flowers, and interesting chats with neighbours! In the end, go where your heart is, which sounds like your home garden. Someone else will love your plot. I wish I had such a great plot to take over when I got my lottie!

  10. I’d give it up Helen. I think its better to do a lot of a little, than spread yourself too thinly.

    Allotments are difficult if you have lots of other interests, which you clearly do. They do need time spent on them, but if you’d rather spend your time in your garden, you should definitely do this.

    My mum has a small patch in her garden for growing edibles. She just grows a few of the simple crops she likes, such as beets, chard, salad leaves, squashes, and a few potatoes in bags on the patio. The rest of the time is devoted to her first love, which is ornamental gardening.

    Another fun thing she does is grow a few veg plants and then randomly put them in places where there is a bit of space. I love going round there and spotting sweetcorn and strawberries dotted around the garden.

    1. patientgardener says:

      thanks Jono – I am going to get a small area for veg maybe on the square foot basis and will pop things in borders like your Mum

  11. I like your plan Helen. Your garden can only sustain you when you are able to have the time for it. And veggies take time. I only have a few small raised beds that give us fresh veggies in summer but not lots. I also work 40 hrs and have a 2 hr commute each day so I shaking my head yes in complete understanding of the time and energy it takes and only having so much to spare. It sounds like you have a wonderful plan as you move on from this place that seemed to bring more to you than veggies and fruits.

  12. I’m with you on the flower-growing above veg-growing, Helen. Next year I’m going to allocate so much time per day to work on the veg beds at the Priory. At the moment I tend to drift off to the borders and the flower beds – where my heart is – and don’t devote nearly enough of (my limited) time on growing veg. Having said that I have worked in a garden where my sole duties were growing (huge amounts) of vegetables. And loved it. But given the choice ……
    Seems ‘talking’ it through with other bloggers has helped you make up your mind. D

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Donna – I do honestly believe that if you work full time you have to really really want to grow veg to make it work

    2. patientgardener says:

      Hi Dave – yep give me flowers any time over veg, my heart really isnt in it. Though I do like the really attractive potager type veg plots

  13. Enthralling to read about your experiences. Come to Texas!

  14. wellywoman says:

    Hi Helen, Thanks for the mention and compliment. I can sympathise with your predicament. I’m lucky because I only live a 5 minute walk away. If we had to drive to the plot it would be a completely different story. I would prefer to be able to pop out into the garden and pick crops and I tried it with some raised beds when we first moved in but we don’t get enough sun on the back garden and didn’t have enough space to make it worthwhile. And then I ended up staring at enviromesh and fleece. So the plot works for me now. My garden has taken a bit of a back seat though since I got the plot and I do sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. All this social media doesn’t help either ;). It really has to be a case of what works best for you.
    I flip between flowers and veg. When I see the first borlotti beans on my plants I get so excited and wonder why I don’t grow more veg but then I get my flower seed catalogues and the list suggests I should turn over the whole plot to flowers.

  15. Hi Helen, you are singing my song, though with slightly different words. I didn’t have work to content with when trying to keep the allotment going, and it was in easy walking distance, but the health issues still meant that I was never able to get up there as frequently as was desirable, and led to the kind of boom and bust gardening that I both dislike and which is worst for my health. I too found that I really wasn’t bothered about a lot of the veg one is “supposed” to grow, and I am now lucky enough to have a large enough front garden to play with that I can afford to devote a large chunk at the back to growing the things I know I love to eat. I realised last year that I needed to be able to poddle out the door and garden a little in my veg patch in my pyjamas if that is what I felt like rather than having to plan a trip.

    I think it is wonderful the way the allotment has allowed your family to work through some stuff, as you say, you find yourself able to speak about all manner of difficult things whilst weeding! Good luck with whatever you decide, but your raised bed idea sounds great to me.

  16. Jane Powers says:

    Thanks for telling it how it is. A lot of people go into allotment-growing without realising the enormous commitment — so it is great to read your perfectly frank and honest thoughts.

  17. John Wingate says:

    Last year when I first started my garden it was a complete fail! I thought I could just plant a few seeds and water everyday and bam….I would have a beautiful garden! This was not the case. This year I actually did research and have a great looking garden that is actually producing vegetables.

  18. hillwards says:

    I think that you have put your finger on some of the reasons why we have briefly flirted with the thought of an allotment, but never gone further. When we lived in the city we did put our names on a waiting list, but once we came here it has rarely crossed our minds again. Spare time is so precious around full time working hours; what free time we have goes into our home and garden already and there is never enough of it. In our rural location, any allotment would have to be similarly distant from us, and thus just as impractical.

    I do enjoy the produce we grow here though, and if our garden could magically extend would be happy to grow more edibles as well as ornamentals, not to mention having a little orchard of fruit trees, with ducks running around… But it is one thing to slip into the garden with secateurs or trowel for a few minutes here and there as time and mood allows, and another thing entirely to have to load up the car and drive somewhere other and work on the plot to a schedule – we would not have lasted eighteen months with such a commitment!

    If this autumn does see you wave farewell to your plot, then, you should do so with a sense of achievement and pride, as you have done so much in such a short time, and it is wonderful how it has worked for your family as a whole too. And you should have few regrets, it has helped clarify the things that are most important to you, that you do not wish to be cultivating rows of spuds or onions but would rather fill your space with flowers and shrubs and interesting foliage etc.

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Hillwards – thank you for your lovely comment. I have made the decision now and its such a weight off my mind. Going to slowly clear stuff up to the autumn and then have a small veg bed at home

  19. I haven’t read all of the previous comments, so sorry if i’m repeating anyone else’s advice.
    I was wondering if you could have the best of both worlds, maybe grow crops that add interest to your garden whilst needing to be tended/picked frequantly -peas, french beans, courgettes, salads etc whilst growing the ones that need less frequant attention on the allotment, broccoli and the other brassicas, main crop potatoes, autumn carrots, sweet corn, fruit bushes?

    Just a thought, either way good luck, heart wrenching decision

  20. A thoughtful post, Helen, and one I have to agree with. If I had the option to garden solely in my own back garden, I would do it. Living in London means I appreciate the opportunity the garden gives me to have a reason to be outside in a peaceful, green space. But I’ve had to give up other hobbies that I enjoy (sewing, painting … sitting around drinking wine with friends!) in order to make time for a garden that’s not even mine. It’s a part of the estate open to all residents but the amount of work (4 years now) that has gone into it makes me feel I want to carry on, and it does look so much better than it was. This year, I’ve grown tasters of food for myself (the “community” gardeners have all disappeared, I’m the only one left) but I’m gradually going for the cottage garden look – lots of perennial flowers with a few veg that I really enjoy tucked in between (beans, carrots, beetroot) in the hopes that it will free up more of my time. What I really want though is my own garden (think Alys Fowler’s edible garden) and to be able to pop out for 5 minutes or 50! Your heart wants to give up the allotment, listen to it.
    Caro xx

  21. A really interesting and honest post. Not an easy decision to make when you have clearly invested so much time and effort.

  22. Having read your original post when it was first posted I reaised from a newer post that you had now come to a decision, so went back to the original to read the comments that were prompted by it. I can’t really add anything new but the last comment from Southbourne Gardens seems to sum it all up – thank you for openly sharing your feelings and echoing what many gardeners feel in one way or another. It just proves that gardens and gardening are as varied as people – and if we are gardening to meet our own needs then we need to do in them what makes us happy and fulfilled.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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