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‘Do a bit and leave a bit’ – the joy of allotmeenteering by Erin Green

As a youngster in the rear of our family car, I’d spy many allotments on journeys we made visiting grandparents, and would marvel at the organised chaos of rickety sheds, neatly tilled soil and wigwam structures made from cane. Occasionally, I’d spot an adult harvesting a cauliflower, chatting whilst digging potatoes or tending chickens and I’d wonder ‘what’s the point?’ Why didn’t they just go to the nearest supermarket like we did, grab a wobbly trolley and purchase a bag of spuds, a dozen boxed eggs and a nicely trimmed cauli?


When I was older, I gained access to a relative’s allotment and encountered a whole new world. What I’d failed to appreciate from our family car was the enjoyment to be had from gardening or allotmenteering. The rich sense of satisfaction stepping back, albeit with an aching back, from a freshly dug patch of bare earth, which holds untold possibilities for the growing season ahead. The care and attention plot holders put into nurturing tiny seedlings, writing their labels and encouraging the wildlife to pollinate their produce. Not to mention the glorious smell of the soil after an April shower, the sound of the dawn chorus and the untold delight in bringing home, cooking and eating produce you have painstakingly and lovingly grown from seed.


Suddenly, I understood that my long-forgotten allotmenteers were an integral part of Mother Nature’s circle of life. They’d become part of their own food chain alongside like-minded people. They knew the chemical content of their food, cast aside unnecessary ‘best before dates’ for the freshest produce available and took pride knowing their fingers caused the only damage to its outer leaves. And all of this was served up with a healthy side order of enjoyment, and a sense of wellbeing and community spirit thrown in for good measure.


An allotment association is open to anyone, all working side by side, chatting or bantering over fences and helping each other through another growing season. This micro-community represents every aspect of life. I’ve seen the younger generation help out when an elderly occupant is unwell and the weeds are threatening to take over his crazy paving. I’ve seen a nonagenarian barrow a pile of manure on to his neighbour’s plot as the actual plot holder is busy working full-time and they had ‘nothing better to do’ than help someone else. Swapping and exchanging fresh produce mimics the age-old bartering system of yesteryear; why should anyone go without a fresh beetroot for their Sunday roast? The allotment folk are the salt of the earth. They help and support each other, sharing a wealth of knowledge based on their years of experience. It isn’t quite as perfect as a beehive colony but it’s certainly a community of generosity and support. Though you’ll hear about it if someone spies you not closing the main gate properly!


I thoroughly enjoyed creating my own allotment community in FROM SHETLAND, WITH LOVE and I hope you’ll like the characters who are the beating heart of the Lerwick Allotment Association. I’ll leave you with a saying I love within allotmenteering: ‘Do a bit and leave a bit.’ It means visit often and tend your plot, do a task each time, but don’t break your back or spirit trying to do it all in one go – a valuable motto for anyone’s life!