Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Allotment A Diary in Pictures, By David Keegan Garden Design

A Pictorial Diary From My Allotment In Manchester

Below is an article first published in 'Concept for Living Magazine in 2007 about allotments
The Green Gardener 
This month, David 
Keegan, Concept 
For Living’s Green 
Gardener, takes a 
step back From The 
Complexities of 
modern Life and goes 
back To his roots… 

There is something mildly rowdy about allotments, with their 
irregular shaped sheds and greenhouses. Some are tended 
like perfectly manicured gardens, while others hover between 
overgrown dereliction and laid-back weediness. Some plant 
rows laid out neat with taut peg and line; others ignore the 
straight and marvel more at the fresh seedling bursting from its 
shell, nose poked gently between loose crumbs of earth. 

These are the fields that would dream our lives as farmers or 
tillers of the soil. In the distance stands the figure of an 80-yearold 
man, straw hat against the late March sun. 

In my mind I can see his weathered hands - calloused, broken 
nails, years of working the earth permanently stained into the 
ridges and grooves of his skin, creating their own fingerprint 
of his life. Hands like spades you might say. He walks with 
the stoop of a man who has suffered metal hips to replace his 
withered bones. 

Despite years of living away, his accent remains untainted, 
still bearing the soft lyrical sounds of Kerry. Some 30 years away 
from the fields of his birth, I am drawn to paint pictures of his 
mind, the sometimes-ghostly beauty of southwest Ireland.An 
early morning mist rising slow some two feet above the ground, 
wrapping itself around trees and the monastic ruins of the ring. 
Does he yearn, I wonder? 

This piece of earth holds freshly planted potatoes between 
carefully dug ridges. 

Here, all the noise stops but for the twittering birds and the 
lazy monotonous drone of distant lawnmowers.What thoughts? 
Do I plant carrots? Parsnips? Maybe some cabbage? I could sigh 
for the days that have left me, but there is an easy harmony to 
this near silence. Still only late March and yet the sun shines so 
brightly there is a haze in the air that hangs over and frames him 
in the broader landscape, reminding me more of the south of 
France than an allotment in Manchester. 

Old man as he is, his devilish humour still leads him to play 
tricks on some of his pals - tales of which he happily regales 
me with in snatched conversation, him leant on a spade handle 
for comfort in the telling.The time he put a potato plant in M’s 
greenhouse and told him he had put in a tomato plant for him. 

M thanked him, worded on his generosity, then tended, 
watered and cared for it along with his other tomato plants until 
he wondered at its lack of growth and height compared to the rest 
of the plants. Minded he quizzed him, who fell around laughing 
and told all and sundry: “Sure the silly old fool couldn’t tell the difference 
between a potato and a tomato”. 
M of course denies it ever happened. 

When I was little my head would sometimes fill with pictures of far-flung places, 
dreaming of the scorching desert sands and people clothed in 
what I thought full-length white dresses. Later, I 
devoured any books I could written by travelers 
brave enough to traverse the earth. In fact, I was 
so taken by the writer Dervla Murphy and tales of 
her travels in Afghanistan that I wrote her a letter, 
hoping secretly that if I was keen enough she might 
take me on one of her trips. In return, I got a very 
sweet postcard, handwritten, which I still have. 

One of the wonders of allotments is the 
diversity of cultures and backgrounds of the 
people who work them – a pair of wellies and 
muddy hands the same in any language. 

An Indian woman makes her way to her plot, 
carrying a pocket full of precious seeds sent from 
her village back home. People share passions, tips 
and seeds, bringing all our diverse cultures and 
traditions to small patches of shared earth. 
I am minded to think we are made of our 
dreams when we nurture them. 

David Keegan. c 2007 

82 Issue 104 July 07 www.conceptforliving.co.uk 

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