Clearing the Allotment

November must be my least favourite month of the year, so I’m always relieved to turn the calendar to December and put aside those sodden grey days. This year as I turned the page I reflected on the strangeness of this past November. I was still picking raspberries at the beginning of the month. Yes, they fruited on late-bearing canes, and yes, I probably hadn’t fed or watered them enough (if at all), this year, but really, to be ripening so late in the year. Such a gift, and yet likely one more curse of climate change.

I carried the last handful of raspberries from the back of the garden into the house for breakfast. Only a couple of weeks before, I had carried three ripe raspberries from my son’s allotment, 500 yards to his house in London. Carefully cupping them in my palm to protect them as I navigated the challenges of the padlock on the gate and the spade and other tools I was carrying.

Three ripe raspberries rest, cupped in my palm
Rescued from the morning’s war on bindweed.

I had spent the morning in the allotment, a new acquisition for my son and his little family. In the few spare days left before flying home to Canada, I offered to tackle clearing the beds of bindweed. I worked away in the morning sun, repeatedly ripping my skin on brambles and hidden rose bushes.

….A burgundy of harm beneath the carpet vines. The thorns’ sharp pain
lurked for my misstep. A reach too far, I’d bleed.

I revel in toiling in a garden. Not just the physical labour, but the space it gives my mind to free fall. As I tore back the bindweed that morning, I was contemplating being a new grandma; how the dynamic shifts with the birth of a grandchild; how best to support, without interfering. I was trying to locate my usefulness, re-establish my relevance…

…Proof I can tame
A tangled bed, lay bare the soil, find the seed
of bloodied danger.

It was hard physical work. At one point I straightened my back and surveyed the task at hand. There was rubbish everywhere. An abandoned supermarket trolley underlined the fact the allotment was being used as a general dumping ground.

…A shame
of twisted metal, rotten wood, plants waiting to be freed.

During the morning, fellow allotment holders stopped by and filled me in on the rules and regulations (no bindweed in the compost bin!), and a bit of the history of the plot. I learned that this plot had been one of the best in the area, which strengthened my resolve to kick-start it back on the road to recovery. Bordering one side were fruit trees: apple, damson, and plum. One woman, a recent immigrant to the UK, told me that she didn’t know that the plot was taken and had helped herself to apples from the tree, as she hated to see all that fruit going to waste. She told me she lived in a nearby high-rise block of flats (apartments) and how she loved coming here, so she could grow her own food, in peace. 

I called the allotment a bomb site and then caught myself. Really, unlike that woman, I have no concept of a bombsite. Stories of World War II destruction swirled around me as a child, as part of the collective consciousness. Stories, too of “digging for victory” and the importance gardens and allotments played in supplementing rations. My grandfather’s allotment supplied potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, peas, beans… not just for my mother’s family, but also for other families in the area, who had limited access to any land.

But now I only need turn on the television to see real bombsites; the endless destruction of Ukrainian villages, neighbourhoods, apartment blocks. It is beyond my comprehension.

…Nightly, I watch it. Russian stains
spread across Ukraine, while crushed hopes bleed

I feel completely hopeless, there is so little I can do. Money, support for refugees, none of it will stop the war in Ukraine. There is nothing I can say, nothing I can write, nothing, that will make any real difference.

I turn back to focus on the task at hand. Pulling away at the bindweed in one of the raised beds I come across the raspberry canes, and there under all the mess, three big juicy raspberries. Carefully I lift the canes, flattened under the weight of the bindweed, and pluck the red jewels off the hulls, nestling them into my palm to carry home: one for my son; one for my daughter-in-law; and one for my little granddaughter.

Gillie Griffin, November 2022