I think I’ve mentioned that before we came to Portugal we lived in South London, and had an allotment. It seems a lifetime ago now, but I remember of all the things we left behind, barring my grown up children of course, the allotment was one of the hardest things to leave. And I still miss it. I’ve often thought about why this is and really it just comes down to the people. And what a wonderful lot they were, from all countries and walks of life. Each plot bore its own cultural stamp, one with grapes growing all over a frame in Greek taverna style, others beautifully dotted with cottage garden flowers, some set out like a park garden with roses lovingly tended. Scarecrows were dotted about, dressed in the strangest clothes, various structures erected, oddly shaped to get around the fact that Dulwich estates who rented us the grounds, wouldn’t allow an actual shed, only something the size of your average coffin. Fortunately the rules didn’t specify whether it needed to be vertical or horizontal and there was much bending of the rules, much to the consternation of some plot holders, who often brought their complaints to the management committee.
Once a year we got together for a feast of our produce. I always really enjoyed the gatherings, as we had a camp fire and it reminded me of my country childhood. Some plot holders brought their guitars and we did Elvis impressions well into the night whilst chomping away reflectively on our home grown vegetables and fruit, reformed into amazing salads or baked into beautiful crumbles or pies.
But the main attraction of allotment gardening was how much I learned. Some of the knowledge passed on was vital to my development as a gardener (although I hesitate to call myself that yet, and I won’t, until I have a garden I am proud of) I remember my first plot was next to a Jamaican gardener and her Italian husband. She taught me compost can be made in the ground, whilst planting in it, a sort of lasagna bed technique. Sheila threw everything into her plot. Her Italian husband wielded a machete on a wooden block to chop all the old stalks, woody bits and everything he could find into small bits and Sheila spread them on the ground every year and planted Into them. She built up alarming fences made out of all sorts of detritus around her plot and filled it with old bedsteads and the like to grow things up. It looked awful in winter, but in Summer her vegetables were enormous and covered every old bike frame and defunct garden chair. Huge cucumbers dripped from the bedsteads, peas clambered up in between them and her runner beans ran everywhere . She was complained about regularly for her untidy plot, but never paid anyone any mind. Why would she? She was the Queen of Vegetable Growing and she knew it. She taught me about soil and the importance of improving it, parting the lovely soft and lush earth to pop a seedling in with a look of great satisfaction on her face.
The plot next to me, was gardened by musicians and poets. Whilst they grew beautiful vegetables too, their plot was also a refuge from their lives, a place to muse and languish, drink tea and enjoy the sunset. Even write poems. They made a beautiful bower of apple trees and loganberries, with a wooden seat underneath them, carved by a friend and sometimes I would wile away an hour sitting with them and drinking tea from a flask with a flapjack whilst watching the little birds nipping in and out of the apple bough, picking off greenfly or the crows wheeling in the winter sunset. They taught me how important it is to take time and just “be” in a garden.
Since we have come to Portugal, it’s harder to find this sense of “Community” gardening. We live in a little village and although my Portuguese is coming along, it’s slower than I would like. i I have learned much about food growing from watching local people who still garden for food by the phases of the moon and watch the weather constantly. But I have cast my net a little more widely and found a great community in Facebook groups. There are quite a few which offer me the possibility of a convivial chat over the fence with fellow gardeners. My favourite group is Gardening in Portugal which is a jolly group of gardeners who swap gardening knowledge, tips about where to get plants and gardening supplies and the benefit of their experience. Some of them have been gardening for a very long time in Portugal and are very generous with the knowledge they have gained of water saving techniques and the plants suitable for growing in this warm and dry climate. They are also funny with it and the banter is one of the pleasures of a chat over a virtual garden fence. I also get a lot of good advice from Allotments, Gardens and Animals in Portugal, where many of the members are producing enough food to be almost self sufficient, despite the challenges of the drought this year.
Being a new chicken keeper I also enjoy the Funky Chicken Fan Club PT and think this is one of the best group names on Facebook. This is an active and enthusiastic, nay funky, community of chicken keepers who share the trials and tribulations of looking after our feathered friends in Portugal. Many of the members are also gardeners and recognise the value and symbiotic relationship between the two. Outside the Portugal groups I am also a great fan of the Garden Professors Blog group, which has been set up by Linda Chalker Scott and her colleagues at Washington State university to debunk garden myths and actually consider the hard science behind gardening, since although I am definitely more on the side of the kookier gardening methods, I like to know the science behind a gardening idea and I have taken Linda Chalker’s Scott’s research into the benefits of using wood chips for mulch into my garden, with excellent results so far. It improves the soil, keeps water in and weeds down. Win win win!
And last but not least, my blogging gardening friends often come by and give me a bit of encouragement over the fence! I love reading through gardening blogs for ideas and the comments I get from them and they always inspire me and spur me on! I reckon I’m still about three years away from having a proper garden, so I need all the encouragement I can get. Onwards and upwards!