I came down here to pick spinach, or chard, or even some Portuguese Cabbage. It doesn't really matter which. It’s 4.30pm and the darkness is beginning to creep in from the west. The clocks fell back an hour yesterday – giving in one way and taking in another. After a minute or two I realise I’ve become still, just watching the sky darken. I’m reflecting. Not on anything specific you understand; just me reflecting in this time, and in this place.
I think reflecting is something we don't do enough of. We're always moving from one event to another, from one requirement to another, from one job to another, always on the move and always running towards the next thing that needs to be done. So today, now, I'm just taking a few minutes out.
Sitting on our little pale blue wooden bench, which definitely needs renovation and certainly a new lick of paint, I'm now reflecting on our top growing space. Our first growing space here. Our first real allotment space in fact. And through this growing space to the space that has become our own just recently. There's so much work to do here, though it's not a challenge that I'm letting get me down. It’s actually rather exciting in its challenges.
Glancing across to the bench I notice the Calendulas I rescued a few weeks ago from the tomato bed are still giving us their happy orange blooms. The violas are doing the same with their own shade of positive purple. Then I notice the parsnips, which with a mild though distinct frost last night will have begun to sweeten. Then in front of me... Yes, those two beds are still empty. The broad beans haven't been sown yet, and that's yet another week that's gone by without them being in their cool dark beds. And our Messidrome garlic is still to go in. As is our elephant garlic, which I now think will be planted at our Community Gardens plot. However, these three will have to wait for another day. As I’m just sitting here, reflecting on nothing and everything at the same time.
A plane that took off from Heathrow half a minute ago comes into view above the treeline, and dissects the darkening sky. I don’t think it’s going to be a sunset that Richard will be able to make anything of this evening. The clouds are forming a grey blanket. Of course, this will mean that the skies will be less open than last night and the outside temperature will be a few degrees warmer. No frost tonight... maybe. Even though it's fabulous to see a clear night-time sky that is full of stars and wonders, as gardeners we need to remember that this brings with it cooler temperatures - as the cloud blanket is not there to hold the warmth in.
There really is so much to do down here. The old apple tree that bears hardly any edible fruit will need a pruning, but that can wait till January. Our tree honeysuckle needs a definite shaping, and even though we're not going to be cutting back the Buddleia in full now, as we will be doing that in February, it does need a distinct trim to let as much of the low morning light on to this plot as possible.
Everything is still… I hear a train in the distance, rattling over the viaduct. A fellow plot holder hoeing his soil... back and forth... back and forth. The side door of the local pub clunks shut. And then I notice the street lights have all come on; silently.
As another plane, smaller this time, crosses the tree boundary from its take off at Heathrow I know that it's now dark enough to see the plane’s headlights spearing the way. Are they called headlights? I wonder this often, and should really look it up. When there's time...
I better get on and do what I came here to do. Harvest spinach. Or chard. Or…
This evening we're having Rocket & Walnut Pesto with Wholemeal Pasta and Greens. Richard has particularly requested this tonight. I did wonder why, though it's not really important to know. If it gets any darker I won't be able to determine which of the spinach plants’ leaves are the best to harvest, so I better get on.
It really is well worth taking some minutes out of the day and reflecting on the stillness of things. Without time out from the hubble and bustle, and the noise and the lights of everyday life, we simply don't have clear headspace or energy to push forward on all else that we'd like to get done.
The weeding of our new plot can wait for another day. And the sowing of the broad beans and the planting of the garlics can also wait. The morning after next looks as though it will be fine, and won't hold the chilliness that this morning did. The ground will also be just that little bit softer, before the rains begin again.
So all of this can wait a few days, and I'll just sit here for five more minutes more before I harvest some spinach and chard. Decision made. Spinach AND chard.
It is in these moments that I realise how lucky we are to be wardens of the allotment spaces and growing spaces we all hold dear. Long may these times last.
A Guernsey Gardener in London - Day 9
Even though I love travelling by train, sometimes it can be a bit of a pain to get to one of our local stations. The journey can to often feel far longer than it actually is, especially during rush hour.
Yesterday, as I started my journey to visit my client For Earth's Sake in Cranleigh, the traffic in which my bus was travelling seemed a bit endless. It seemed we were literally inching closer and closer rather than happily trundling along in our charabanc.
However, once I got off the bus and started walking down to the station I passed this lovely area of community gardening. It really is something that lifts me each time I'm nearing the real start of my journey. There are areas on either side that are simply grass verges and weeds, and in their own way they would be lovely - if the detritus and plastic was regularly removed! However, it is this block of community gardening that always lift my heart. To see the Calendulas happily blooming away and a few other perennial plants now in place alongside explanations of how and why this community managed space is here, it literally put a spring back in my step.
So, as I mentally skipped down to the platform and my train came trundled in, I already had a smile on my face. It really is amazing how just these little happinesses can lift our day.
A Guernsey Gardener in London - Day 8
As I looked across the Community Gardens this morning, before our rather wet and curtailed Saturday Social, I was overwhelmed with emotions for the journey this place set me off on almost five years ago.
A week before Christmas in 2014, I received the keys to a very local community gardens and the tenancy of the 3m by 3m growing space below. It was weedy yet had a pretty prolific perpetual spinach, a fabulous thyme and a fragrant fennel in situ. A few hours later, using our communal tools, I'd cleared all the weeds, dug the rich soil over and begun thinking about the growing year ahead.
It's from this quiet, contented few hours that my love of growing vegetables and fruits really began to return, and I started to benefit from working with my hands in the earth once more.
Over the next 10 months some things grew really well whilst others did the bare minimum of what I had hoped for; though to be frank everything was a success in my rose-tinted eyes!
At our Association AGM the following October, I put up my hand when they called for new committee members. At my first committee meeting a week or so later the Chair stood down, and I found myself the only person in the room with a little time on my hands. I thought it would be a fun and worthwhile project, and anyway I had an hour or two a month to spare. It's fair to say that I totally underestimated the amount of time and commitment this decision would eventually entail, and I also totally underestimated the amount of fun, value, friendship and fabulous community engagement I'd encounter along the way.
Having now been active in guiding the running of the Community Gardens for the past four years, alongside a fabulous and supportive committee, I'll be standing down as Chair at our AGM in early November. It seems the right time for myself AND the Community Gardens. With any organisation, the time comes for some to move on and for others take the reins; new energy and guidance reinvigorates to take things further and continue the success.
At our AGM we'll also be celebrating ten years from breaking ground on the Community Gardens - ten years of growing food, flowers, enhancing the ecology and environment and doing our bit in community development and enhancement. It seems the perfect time for another to take up the baton.
I'll keep my plot at the Community Gardens for another year, and remain on the committee. I'll be taking a back seat, though supporting whenever I'm needed and able. Our new Chair is already a very active member of the committee so the Community Gardens will be in solid and safe hands.
Little did I know when I took on my small growing space five years ago that it would lead to me being the Chair of trustees of Social Farms & Gardens today; an organisation that at the time I didn't even know. As a national charity, with members and offices in all four countries of the UK, we support and are a voice for over 1,300 community gardens, city farms, care farms, forest schools, school farms, orchard projects and lots of other community managed green spaces. My small role in this organisation is something I'm proud off and derive both benefit and satisfaction from.
There is no doubt that sometimes I find my time challenged. Though I work largely from my home office, and am regularly able to take an hour out of my day to attend the plots, my clients obviously need my time and energy too. Though I'm lucky to now love much of my work, the satisfaction I get from my voluntary work really grounds me, as do the benefits that I get from taking time to grow at my Community Gardens plot and our allotment plots.
So, as I stood this morning amidst a tangle of weeds and mud, with a tinge of cold in the air and rain tumbling down, I appreciated that though ours is by no means a perfect life, it is a good life.
A Guernsey Gardener in London - Day 5
...long term partners.