To say you can give merely half-an-hour a day to an allotment is tempting but is it possible? No.
|The Half-Hour Allotment was first published in 2006.|
This revised edition was released in October 2015
And I'm just about to confuse you. My test for whether I like or value a book is whether I want to keep a book after reviewing it or whether I'd like to donate it to my local horticultural society. I'm keeping this. Why? It's fun. Well written. And engaging. And there aren't many gardening books I can happily read from beginning to end without abandoning them in favour of dipping. But I did this.
Here's the wildly frustrating thing though. By the end of the first chapter I'd chosen a good allotment (some hope!) established a shed, laid a path and built raised beds - some of them about waist high to save my bad back. Lia does suggest people might like to work in pairs to take account of differing ages, strengths and skills. I'd say you'd need a team of people. There would need to be a car and a lot of spare cash. The allotment would have to be on a route travelled every day or be very close to home. As I read through the book I found I might need old pallets (where would I get them?) which I'd need to nail together. (How would I do that?) And that if I don't have access to logs, I could use a piece of corrugated iron (for slow-worms to creep under). I don't know about you but I'd find it easier to buy logs than rummage around for an old piece of corrugated iron. I might like to pin pieces of card to the ground with large stones. (To suppress weeds.) That sounds ok until you start looking for stones large enough. The earth may seem full of them while you're trying to dig but there are rarely many small rocks. And if I'm to protect potatoes as they begin to grow where will I find a stash of cabbage leaves to cover them with? (Especially at that time of year.) (And will they stay put?) And a garden shredder is not something one is likely to have about one's person.
I remember as a student reading that an easy, free and attractive bookcase could be made from some old bricks and couple of planks. Sounds good until you go looking for old bricks and abandoned planks.
Who, I am asking myself, is this book for?
For young professionals with spare cash who like the idea of having an allotment but don't necessarily need it? With friends who'd like to come and help them out in return for a taste of the good life and a glass of wine? This, of course, could be you!
And people prepared blindly to discount 'preparation' time. It's a bit like buying a book called 'Five Minute Recipes' only to discover you will need to spend hours traipsing around in search of unusual ingredients and have a fridge or freezer already stocked with sauces 'made earlier'. 'Five minutes' turns out to mean several days.
Then I wondered if it might be for people who are thinking of having an allotment next year, even the year after. People who might need to be put off for a bit until they have thought through the kind of challenges they will meet and have worked out how and whether they can overcome them.
I doubt any but those with well established allotments are likely to benefit from the half-hour advice. (Which is pretty thin: don't hang around talking to other people or standing there wondering what to do, have your work planned in advance . . . )
But allotmenteers who have already got their sheds and paths and lawnmowers and compost . . . have already learnt that blackflies like to eat broad bean plants . . . and who are not challenged by the idea that they might simultaneously rotate the planting of roots and alliums and mix spring onions in with the carrots . . . I doubt these gardeners will need the kind of advice about growing things offered in this book. (Though it's often helpful to have a revision lesson. You go 'Oh, I'd forgotten that! or 'Hmm. Here's another angle.')
And the final problem - the pictures. The pictures are alluring. They are of runner beans growing in straight rows. (The text doesn't mention that parallel rows aren't necessarily easy to create or that bamboo poles can be a pain - one end won't go in the ground properly, the other wobbles around on the green string you are trying to tie it to the others with. It takes more than ten minutes to get the hang of it, let along make a strong, neat row.) There are smart fences and brand new trowels. There are perfect apples, greenhouses and polytunnels. A beautiful scarecrow. (How long does it take to make a scarecrow? Ages!) I've found this with a lot of books. It's not an uncommon problem; this disjunction between photos and text. There we are reading about struggling to get things right while being blasted by humiliating perfection. (They are lovely though.)
So if you are an indifferent allotmenteer who would genuinely like to do better . . . would I recommend this book to you? Well yes. Yes, I would. I find it inspiring. If I were in a position to have another go at having an allotment, (I've done it you know) I'd probably be phoning the council right now, asking to have my name put on the list instead of writing this review. (I'll gloss over the idea that brambles can be cut back and rooted out in the blink of a half-hour eye. I'd need a day on them alone if they'd encroached very far.)
The sub-title is 'Timely Tips For The Most Productive Plot Ever' - which is rather hopeful (!) but a clearer indication of what the book's about. And I'd add to that 'With Handy Hints on How to Get on With Your Allotment Neighbours'. (A trickier task than anyone who's not had an allotment might think!)
I'm a sucker for charts and tables. I'd like it if there were charts to show when to do what rather than relying on the reader to make notes as they go through the book.
And it would be amusing (says she meanly!) to have a timetable to show how you can do all this in half hour slots broken up into ten minute pieces.
Now I'll go and see what other reviewers have said. They'll probably all be saying how easy it is to set up and run an allotment on two and a half hours a week - and I'll feel stupid. But I'll risk it though. Here I go. Press 'Publish'!
(The Half-Hour Gardener is published by Frances Lincoln in collaboration with the Royal Horticulture Society.
To order 'RHS: The Half Hour Allotment' at the discounted price of £13:99 including p&p* (RRP £16:99) telephone 01903 828 503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote the offer code APG378.
*UK only. If ordering from overseas, please add £2:50
* * *
AND FOR ANOTHER APPROACH TO GROWING FRUIT AND VEG
watch this little film for children
(It's sometimes only available in Australia so the link may not work
but try it - you will like if if you get through but the link works at the time of posting.)