Until recently growing vegetables in kitchen gardens and allotments was viewed largely as a preserve for old men and retirees, where the secret lives of gardeners carried on in make-do-an-mend shanty towns of sheds, dwellings and peaceful havens away from the noise, worries and trappings of modern times: a world of pipe smoking, double-digging, giant-veg growing, moonshine-brewing magic-and-mystery which was accessible only to the very young (as grandchildren, for a treat) or those approaching the autumn of their years.
As recently as the year 2000, allotment sites countrywide were neglected and falling into disrepair as their incumbents either gave up, or took their seed packets to the great veg patch in the sky. Vegetable growing areas became overgrown wastelands, havens for the creatures that make their homes in long grass but hardly conducive to growing your own food. Surviving plots were tended by a hardy breed of gardener who, through the repetitive spirit of their actions, kept the fields and dreams they shared alive.
Something happened after 2001. Whether it was the 9/11 atrocity or something else is unclear, but suddenly reps in the gardening trade noticed sales of vegetable seeds starting to increase and, a few years later, outstripping those for ornamentals. In tandem was a renewed interest from ordinary people (that’s you and me) in how to grow vegetables.
Suddenly folk were clamouring for allotments. Derelict land was being reclaimed by a new generation of gardeners. These were often younger and with families, frequently they were women! A revolution was happening and it carries on still, to this day.
The great thing about this revolution is that it is universally inclusive. It is not a club where you have to give funny hand shakes or pass a dodgy induction ritual. It is a world of possibility which embraces anyone prepared to invest the time and effort which are the only demands.
Writing as ‘Dirty Nails' of the Blackmore Vale Magazine, through his weekly articles in local and regional newspapers, Joe Hashman has been demystifying the art of edible gardening to a public audience since February 2004. His urge to grow vegetables and fruit stems from a love of nature and good, locally produced, organic food. He is now the author of several books which combine his passion for gardening with the natural pleasures of being outdoors ‘in amongst it’.