The Allotment

A gardener is a farmer in disguise
Who, lacking cows and sheep, must compromise.
Instead of rolling pastures, just a lawn,
And next to it mere flowers instead of corn.
He creates a pretty view, the floral grower,
But pays for it in spades behind the mower.

But things to eat, now that has huge appeal!
Fresh vegetables to supplement a meal!
Just soil and seed and rain and sun,
And soon a hundredweight or half a ton
Of carrots, taties, even some sweet-pea
Appear by Nature’s magic, and all free!
Accountants, costing out the different stages
Would claim each onion costs a week in wages.

But not to worry, there’s fresh air and toil
And keeping healthy digging up the soil;
The pleasant feeling you can somehow cheat
And render produce counters obsolete;
The joy of telling guests, “I beg your pardon,
I just picked this lettuce from the garden”.
Ah, the atavistic pain and gain
Of being part of peasantry again!

I dream I linger in a chair and doze,
While a huge marrow effortlessly grows.
I dream of taking this fine merchandise
To competitions, where I win first prize.
I yearn for some corner of an English field,
Where, with little work I get the greatest yield.
Yes, here in the city a garden still entices
Though, faut-de-mieux, a window-box suffices.

Distance lends, alas, too much enchantment:
My son’s acquired a new (and wild) allotment.
Describing it to father on the phone
He tells me it’s a little overgrown,
But if I’d like to do some gentle weeding,
Why, soon on new potatoes we’d be feeding.
Tomatoes, beans and sweet-corn had been sown,
And many other goodies could be grown.

I came, I saw, I failed to conquer (Julius Caesar’s Garlic Wars. Ed.)

There before me, luxuriant, to be weeded
Were all known weed-plants ever seeded.
Bindweed, stinkweed, mayweed, fireweed,
Pokeweed, ragweed, hogweed, knapweed.
Every rank creeper, twining vine and wort
Was represented in this plot, I thought.
Every thistle, bramble, grass and clover,
Known to man gave ground its cover.
Well, you get the overall impression
Of this straightforward weeding session!

Then we came to digging, oh, the shock!
The surface soil was like a solid rock.
Spades bend and tough fork creaks
In earth un-rained-upon for weeks.
Sprinkled water helped to counteract the bake,
But this hard ground required a huge great lake.
And once you broke the surface, the dismay!
For underneath the earth was sticky clay.

Nearby, well fed, some magpies lurked
And watched us, smirking, while we worked,
Hoping to steal the raspberries undetected.
We thought, “Those berries ought to be protected.”
We rummaged in an old decrepit shack
Whose antecedents probably went back
To days of hunter-gatherers or before,
For there were bison bones and flint-stones on the floor.

Midst centuries of muddle I was betting
That somewhere I could find some berry netting.
Success! But when we spread it for protection
There were such rips and general imperfection
That you could enter in without a doubt,
The problem was, when finished, to get out.
Meanwhile, spring onions, near the raspberries put,
Were accidentally trampled underfoot.
Which was a shame, for since their sowing,
They were the only vegetables growing.

My son is young and strong and might just see
When he has reached the age of sixty-three,
His garden tamed and in productive glory,
Though I won’t be around to hear the story.
And just when, triumphant, all those weeds he’s banned,
They’ll sneak back swiftly to reclaim the land.
Although of gardening I’m a stout proponent,
Clearly Nature is a tough opponent.

Meanwhile, I think it’s probably unwise to stop
Buying spinach and onions at the shop.

June 2004