Caught by the River

To The Greenhouse

Tracey Thorn | 22nd June 2010

by Tracey Thorn.


This year, for the first time ever, I visited Chelsea Flower Show. An evening event, to which I was invited by a friend who works in PR, meant that I was able to avoid the thronging daytime crowds, and scoot round the whole extravaganza in about an hour. A few random celebrities were dotted here and there, in amongst the imported olive trees, and the artfully arranged garden bric-a-brac. Rory Bremner over there, Britt Ekland over here, and up there, Nicky Haslam, picking his way along a note-perfect reconstruction of a Provencal gravel path towards a lady in full evening dress, playing the harp. It was, to say the least, incongruous, and whilst I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, glass of champagne in hand, the impression I took away with me was that the Chelsea Flower Show has really sod-all to do with gardening as I know and love it.

A couple of weeks later, I noticed in Time Out that it was the Open Garden Squares Weekend in London. Various green spaces – some well-known, some small and insignificant – were open to the public, and spotting one very nearby, I announced on Sunday afternoon that we were going to visit the Branch Hill allotments in Hampstead.

In many ways it was a classic family outing – the weather turned too hot as we traipsed up the hill, it was a little further than we thought, the oldest kids moaned about the distance, and the youngest, wearing new Crocs for the first time, got blisters and had to be revived with a bottle of Oasis and a pack of plasters. But when finally we got there, it restored my faith in the wonder and beauty of gardening, and made me feel again that it was something anyone could do, and could then share with anyone else who did it. There was that combination of the ramshackle and the orderly common to all allotments, and which I love more than any sweeping lawn or herbaceous border. Neat rows of yellow-stalked chard, carefully netted raspberry bushes, diligently earthed-up rows of potatoes. All interspersed with home-made, Blue Peter-style garden contraptions – slug traps made from yoghurt pots, with an inch of beer at the bottom, CDs tied to bamboo canes, fluttering and glinting in the breeze, a low wall made of a random assortment of bricks and more or less square stones piled on top of each other. Even a semi-open greenhouse, which was just four half-height plyboard walls, and then some clear corrugated plastic above, but inside, basking in the warmth, a lush collection of tomato plants and strawberries.

What I realised was that there is a DIY quality to allotments, which reminds me of the atmosphere of the indie record scene that I grew up with. It’s a bit rough round the edges, a bit alternative, but at the same time extremely industrious. There’s an atmosphere of people working hard, and trying their absolute best to make things happen, but accepting all the imperfections that come from doing it yourself, as an amateur, rather than getting the professionals in. Still, I have to confess that I experienced this epiphany alone in our family group. The kids were patient enough, bless them, as they tried to fathom the reasons why I would want to look at someone else’s beans when I have my own growing at home, but finally my nine year-old came up with an analogy that was the only way he could make any sense of it – “This is like Lego for you, isn’t it Mum?”

read Tracey’s previous columns HERE.

Tracey’s new single ‘Why Does The Wind?’ (taken from her current album ‘Love And Its Opposite’) is out this week with new remixes by Metro Area’s Morgan Geist and others.