Although buying new books is off limits until the shelves groan less, what happens if some unexpected gift vouchers come your way from your nearest and dearest? Such is life and such bounty was responsible for the purchase of one or two books recently, including a copy of 'My Cool Allotment' by Lia Leendertz, with photography by Mark Diacono.
There has been an absolute proliferation of allotment books over the last few years. They appear to fall into three distinct categories. The first are the earnest and sometimes invaluable 'how to' tomes especially useful when you are starting off and some become loved long term companions. The second often with a dose of humour thrown in for good measure, are the personal accounts of people who've been there, done that and have got the allotment badge. The third category are the miscalleneous titles which look at the subject from a completely different angle. Lia's book falls into this last category and is a celebration of allotments in all their weird and wonderful guises. The author has visited some 31 plots up and down the country and on the near continent talking to people who work these patches of land. Most are allotment plots but there are one or two private gardens thrown in, as well as small holdings and a number of community gardens.
Chapters focus on the following themes :
Historic - concentrating on traditional allotment plots.
A Feast Of Flowers - where flowers are the stars of the show rather than fruit and veg.
All For One - which features community growing projects.
Edible Jungle - where gardeners are exploring alternative methods of growing.
Food From Home - where immigrants are growing crops cherished by them far from home.
The Creative Process - highlighting growers or artisans who use their plot to grow or nurture their specialist product.
Finally there is a short sourcebook with extra details about some of the allotment holders in the book, details of allotment and growing organisations, tools and equipment and seeds and plant suppliers.
This is not a long book coming in at 160 pages and is quite photo heavy so I managed to read through it during an evening. The photos are of a high standard throughout and enhance the text.
What I liked - the way that Lia has conveyed the the sheer joy and enthusiasm of the plot holders she encountered. The book perfectly illustrates in Lia's words "just what different people do in response to a small piece of land. Each plot is an expression of the allotment holder's personality, memories, hope and fears".
What I was not so keen on - the size of the book. It is short and wide. I have since fitted it into the bookshelf, with all my other allotment/growing books and it is noticeable how much it juts out of line from the rest of them. This does not really matter but what irked was that I found the book most uncomfortable to hold. Maybe it's just me and the size of my hands though.
What I will do inspired by 'My Cool Allotment'
- Visit one of the featured plots this summer, more specifically the relatively nearby Valducci Flower and Vegetable Gardens which opens under the National Gardens Scheme. Have been intending to go there for a while but have never made it. Now it's a must.
- Buy a mirror for the inside of the allotment shed door. This decision has been inspired by the mention of Nell who has "installed a little mirror on the side of her shed to check herself over before she walks out of the allotment gate : 'So many times I've found myself walking up the main road with bits of twig or leaves in my hair. It is east to forget that civilisation is still out there'.
- Read more about the concept of perennial planting which is appeals to me more and more, although I'm not sure how it would fit in with our allotment inspection criteria.
In conclusion this was one of those books that left me wanting more. I would have liked to have read more about all the plots included in the book and would have welcomed a much larger 'Food From Home' section - perhaps even a separate book on the subject! A most enjoyable read which would make a suitable gift for anybody already besotted by allotments or about to fall under their spell.
'My Cool Allotment' (ISBN 978 -1-86205-966-5) is published by Pavilion and is available from all good booksellers.