The first surprise came when we realised that, despite the rain, only the top couple on inches of ground was wet – the rest was bone dry. How is that even possible? Isn’t that against some rule of physics? But that wasn’t the only surprise. Turns out that my dad and I have radically different opinions about what constitutes digging. I had imagined it as a means to turn over a few inches of soil. However my dad immediately started to excavate something akin to a world war one trench.
He explained that this was the way he had watched his own dad dig the back garden of his house in Birmingham in the late 1940s. I know it may sound insignificant but at that moment, in the cold rain, in a little field in Staffordshire, I was so glad that I had taken up allotment gardening. How else would I have known how my granddad had dug his garden? Or had his son, my dad, teaching me skills his own dad had taught him over sixty years ago?
My granddad was a brilliant gardener – he really could grow anything. I remember there always seemed to be newspaper on the upstairs windowsills of his house, with something or another ripening on it. Even when he lived in a pub and only had a concrete yard to work with he grew herbs and made fantastic hanging baskets. In fact, he was so adept at growing vegetables that he once asked his girlfriend why she insisted on buying them from the shop when there was a plentiful supply in the garden. Her (infamous) reply? “Oh no Sam, I couldn’t eat anything that’s been in the ground.”
I digress. As well I might, because for me, that whole afternoon was about taking my wheelbarrow to the manure pile, filling it and hauling it back to our allotment . I assure you that it was more pleasurable to do than it is to read about –I actually managed to get quite a rhythm going and got lost in my own thoughts. Neil and my dad were the same as they dug and dug and dug. We all worked in silence, apart from the odd coffee break, but it was companiable silence.
One thing I was mulling over was that I often say “I love nature” when what I actually mean is that I love to look at it. I enjoy a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a nice garden as much as the next National Trust member, but I had never appreciated the hard work (and let me assure you, it is much harder than I imagined) that went into it. I don’t think I had done that much hard, physical work in years, but in the hours that we spent there, we only managed to double dig a few feet.
But what a few feet. Dark, rich earth made my allotment look like one of the ‘proper’ ones. I think I really can do this you know.