A year and a half ago my husband and I took on an allotment plot – located in the countryside it made for an ideal wedding anniversary gift to one another to celebrate 14 years of married life and we held high hopes that it would be the perfect little patch of earth to learn how to grow some fruit and vegetables for our family. Little did we know at the time, as we stood knee-deep in grass, full of dreams and planning what we would sow and where the shed and greenhouse would eventually be located, that it would become a special place of sanctuary during 2020.
When the world began to shut down at the beginning of the year and soon reached us here in Northern Ireland by mid-March, I suddenly found myself home-schooling my 3 amazing boys to the best of my ability, my new business was put on hold and uncertainty and fear swept across the globe as we were faced with Covid-19 and all of its unknown effects. No-one knew for how long we would have to stay at home in those early days and now as I write this at the beginning of August I can see that I definitely underestimated with an approximation of around a few weeks. We witnessed panic-buying in the supermarkets and I suddenly realised just how much we depended on others for supplies: food, household necessities…well, everything really!
The plans we had for the allotment suddenly seemed more important to us all of a sudden. While I had always wanted to cultivate a space that produced some food for my family all year round, suddenly it seemed like learning these essential skills was more than a mere hobby, it mattered, and never was I more grateful than when the weekend rolled round with each week that passed to make a break from the confines of home, Google Classroom and the bombardment of bad news to my little haven up on the hill!
We worked hard to get several growing beds ready – weeding, digging, more weeding, sowing seeds, raking and trimming until we had a space that began to resemble an allotment rather than chunk of undesirable wasteland…we were proud of our efforts and as the weeks rolled on into April, May…June I tried to nip up in the evenings to water and look after our seedlings and spend some time alone away from the noise and stress that now accompanied daily life. The world had changed, for everyone, and despite being at home all the time, days were full-on busy, a new rhythm unfolded as we learned to navigate through the unknown. I missed my solo hikes in the Mourne Mountains and wild days out with my family and friends and the allotment became to me almost like a sacred space where I could retreat to, turn-off my phone, get my hands muddy, brew a cuppa on the camp-stove and simply be still for a while.
I looked forward to those stolen hours here and there of pure uninterrupted connectedness with myself and the earth, learning so much along the way as always seems to be the way with these things. Total novices to gardening, we have made so many errors this year – sowing seeds directly into the ground instead of starting them off in the greenhouse, not thinning-out, overwatering, underwatering, forgetting to make a note of what we had planted where! So many silly mistakes that in hindsight were just a lack common sense coupled with an eagerness to make it happen! But, in saying that, never once have we been annoyed or frustrated, only grateful for the opportunity to learn how to grow some of our own food.
As lockdown restrictions have begun to ease and we enjoy the summer months away from school work and with no holidays to look forward to this year, our allotment remains for us a haven where we go to for picnics and some gentle time together in nature – we are learning more than ever that slow, unhurried time together is a precious gift. While I tend to the vegetables the boys like to run up and down the quiet grassy lanes, talking to our allotment neighbours, making up silly games; their laughter carrying back to me on the breeze and making me smile that they get to run free and wild for a time.
Sometimes, they’ll hang around long enough to lend me a hand or gather the abundant raspberries and blackcurrants, eating much of the pickings as they go – purple-stained fingers and faces all part of the messy fun! An entire afternoon can easily be spent watering and weeding, lighting a campfire to cook lunch and lying back in the sun for a while before the clouds and soon to follow showers roll in.
I personally love the physical aspect of gardening, it truly is a wonderful way to workout and keep fit when you can’t get to the gym, or, in my case the mountains for an uphill adventure. But, more than that it has been of such benefit to my mental and emotional wellbeing during such an unprecedented time that has undoubtedly shaken us all. There has been a wealth of information and at times deep sadness to process. The world has gone through so much, normality has taken on a whole new definition and for me personally having a little patch of earth to look after has meant so much while just being a really nice place to hang out for a while.
To sow a seed, to water it, to return every few days, to hope, to wait patiently, to then see the first glimpses of tiny green shoots, to watch something bloom and produce food is a mesmerising and rather humbling experience I’ve come to realise. Nature works its wonderful magic and even when we make mistakes still often produces for us a little crop of something delicious to eat. Despite our inexperience, we have still been rewarded with lots of different types of fruit and vegetables over the past few months, which is such a satisfying feeling. I love being able to take something home to my kitchen that I have picked from the allotment and cook it that evening for tea – it somehow tastes better when you’ve grown it yourself. For me, that simplicity of life is where it’s all at!
From chatting to friends and family over the past few months it has become so apparent that for many of us getting back to basics has become a strong desire. I know I long to strip away the superfluous elements of my life, removing clutter and noise, simplifying and become further connected to what it means to be wide awake as a human. I definitely believe our allotment is helping me a lot with that because when I am there I am so in the present moment; not thinking about things I need to do elsewhere, not scrolling through social media on my phone or worrying about something I can’t control. I am simply there with dirt under my nails and joy in my heart! Can’t ask for more than that really!
I know from years of hiking and outdoor experiences how nature and wildness can teach us and support us so much; it has been such a comfort to me during depression and injury, it has lifted me when friendships failed, when plans unravelled, when fear and uncertainty prevailed and I never, ever cease to be amazed at how it continues to give and continues to educate me. For while I learn to cultivate an allotment and grow some veg for my family, I am also learning what it is to be deeply patient, to continue to hope, to not give up, to both work hard and also to know when to step back and trust the process, that mistakes are okay, that all the seasons are needed, that there are good days and not so good days, that the things we need in order to be happy are really quite simple!
The tee-shirts featured in this blog were kindly gifted to us by the lovely folks at Lighthouse Clothing. I am wearing the gorgeous Lemon Multi Stripe Causeway Tee and my son wears the Oliver Short Sleeve Pea Green Eclipse Stripe Tee which he really loves as it’s so soft and he’s such a fusspot about his clothes not being ‘scratchy’ – if you like the look of these beautiful cotton tee-shirts you’ll love the 3 for 2 special offer on tops and tees – I can’t recommend these garments highly enough – we are an active family and our clothing takes quite a battering, but these wash so well and continue to look beautiful whether at the coffee shop or the allotment!