May 02, 2014

Behind The Hedges // 1

Tucked away on Sheffield’s hillside, hidden behind a prickly line of untamed hawthorn bushes, lies our new life as gardeners. With the key to our very own 30 square meters, we not only hold access to the wonderful opportunity to grow our own vegetable and fruits, but to a very special community: British allotment owner. Our plot is lined up with 29 other gardens, carefully looked after by Jamaican veteran-gardeners, church groups, newly weds and the odd rookies like us. With keen garden neighbours all around us, advice, tips and help is never far even in the most daunting situations. With Behind the hedges I want to take you with me on this crazy little adventure that is holding an allotment, to share the laughter, the pain, the success and the great lessons I hope to learn.

Allotment owners are the true definition of the collectors and gatherers. Old windows, road signs, and fruit boxes – nothing goes to waste when an allotment holder is around. Some of our neighbours sheds appear like the room of requirements to gardening (if you don’t get the reference, go and read Harry Potter) and whatever you are in need off, they always have one spare...

Three month into the New Year we had been paying only a few visits to our little garden plot. Now and then we monitored the growth of our early garlic sprouts, they were thriving and much cause for joy over our first success in our young gardening career. Unlike the rest of our plot – I am afraid to admit. Strong winds and days filled with rain, hadn’t allowed for much progress on the building side of things. There was still a half standing (half falling apart) shed to attend to and of course the green house needed to be set up. So Mid-March we scheduled one Sunday to attend to the demands. It was windy up there, despite the cover of our overgrowing hedge. Neighbours all around us were fixing broken green houses and blown away windows.
We called ourselves lucky. Knowing that our green house wasn’t even up yet, we had no worries about something lying broken on our grounds. Or so we thought until we arrived at number 14, the entrance to our garden.

Where once was our door, there was now a big hole in the hedge, allowing an unblocked view into the muddy mess that is our allotment. The door itself was dangling on its last screw half way into the garden. The little chain we use to lock it with was basically the only other thing that held it. One side of the door was ripped off, revealing the honeycomb patterned paper filling. Number 14 was gone.
A little bit stunt we stood there, looking at each and the remainders of our door. With one blow (well I imagine it didn’t take many) our plans for progress this day where gone. Some of our neighbours’ plots are basically fort Knox’s for good reasons. We couldn’t possibly leave our little garden and all our precious tools in a wide open field.

While we were taking apart the ruined door and contemplating on possible solutions how to close that hole in our hedge or where to find a spare door on a Sunday afternoon, old Mr Smiths walked along. On his two crutches he was heaving himself step by step past our gate. How he ever manages to garden anything stays his own secret. “Quite windy today, isn’t it”, he said, starting off a fifteen minute monologue on the current conditions and how we should never leave our garden unlocked. He can talk. He had the most impenetrable (and most beautifully maintained, may I say) hedge of them all and two locks to guard the door. Our door just got blown off the frame. There was not much point in arguing though, as Mr Smiths his almost deaf. So my fav Englishman simply shouted “Unfortunately that was the only door we have!”. “well," Mr Smith said, "I have loads of doors. I use them as borders, although there is a door that fell onto one of my beds the other day and I just can't lift it. I am a bit too old for that, you see..."

Oh what a sweet blessing the gathering and collecting habits of our fellow allotment holders are! Five minutes later we were the owners of a new proper outside door in a beautiful solid wood with a pretty glass panel in the middle. “Do you know”, said my fav Englishman while we were installing the new door, “we just went from having a big hole in our hedge to the prettiest entrance around in less than five minutes!” “I know”, I said and smiled.

Thank you, Mr Smith!


  1. Hi Nadine, so lovely to get a glimpse of your allotment... can't wait to see more! I'm surprised your allotment is fenced in by hedges and detached from the others... we didn't see any fenced-in allotments in Bristol! Allotment owners there always share a huge field, everyone having their own beds and mini-sheds to look away tools but apart from that, no sense of privacy! So different to the German Schrebergärten ;)

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Christine, thank you so much and you are right our hedge-fenced gardens are indeed a unique arrangement. Most other allotment communities around Sheffield share open fields like you described. We really appreciate the privacy and so far it doesn't even hinder the communication in the community. Whenever we are up there people are stopping by or we have lovely chats over the hedge. Very much like I would imagine a German Schrebergärten Kolonie, only no one is bothered wether your garden is neat and tidy or not. :)
      Lovely Sunday to you,