Audrey Hepburn's famous adage 'to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow' is a truth universally acknowledged! But even more so than general gardening, growing vegetables alters your perception of time. You become hyperaware of the seasons over and above time passing Monday to Friday, or deadline to deadline. Sowing a seed in March, in the hope of a cauliflower in September. Longing for a courgette November to June, only to be sick to death of them by August.
I am very lucky that my parents took on an allotment plot in 1987 when I was 3, and Sundays were always spent there, throughout my childhood. It's had a huge influence on my life and everywhere I've lived since, At the very least, I've always had a tomato plant on my window ledge. I've spread my evangelical vegetable-growing habits to countless flat mates and friends, most of whom continue to grow things now. 6 years ago I moved back to where I grew up and back to the allotment. My mum and I now have chickens, which has been amazing. And we spend a lot of our time together up there.
It's not all wonderful. Being a perfectionist can be tricky with regards to mental health, but having an allotment can quickly beat that out of you. You learn to accept the flaws and appreciate the perfect when (and if) it happens. The same cauliflower you planted in March might very well be obliterated by caterpillars 3 months down the line, or the Badgers might dig out all your beautiful carrots (still a painful one for me, that!) but allotmenting breeds an odd kind of optimism. Hope. And community. You inevitably get a diverse range of people on an allotment site. Different politics and religions, nationalities and backgrounds, but you all have something in common. The tie that binds is the variety of runner beans you're trying this year, or the new recipe idea for all the damned courgettes. It's a positive thing to know people who are not like yourself. A broad spectrum helps keep your individual perspective a little more balanced.
I was the kid who grew up on the allotments, and now I see the next generation of 3 year olds with their hands buried in the soil, and I think how lucky they. It's a genuine phenomenon that sticking your hands in the dirt for a few minutes can lift you out of the foulest temper or blackest mood, and they will have that in their arsenal for the rest of their lives.
Author credit: Jessie Sheffield