Sunday, 10 July 2011

Life on Pig Row: Here on Pig Row I am tending the tomatoes


Here on Pig Row I am tending the tomatoes. I love tomatoes; the smell of them in the greenhouse is a childhood memory that has stuck with me. It transports me back to my Dad’s allotment, the humid air of the glasshouse, the hotch potch style of window frames tacked together.


I miss those greenhouses. I know when I was on an allotment that such Heath Robinson constructions were banned due to health and safety; and the belief by some committee members that it did not fit the ambience of the site. This is the middle class grow your own generation, who ooze platitudes to your face and pick holes in your cabbages when you’re out of earshot. Give me the old timers who would come to your plot, nod hello, point at your cabbages and say, ‘Cabbage Butterflies have buggered them. Still, if you get the buggers netted early enough it won’t be a problem next year. See you, lad’ and off he’d pop. No bickering on the colour of sheds or how Marjorie on plot five has put up a scarecrow that is inappropriate for the kind of neighbourhood the allotment is in. These are the same types whose irrational fears run riot in their dreams, that glasshouses built of discarded windows could suddenly, inexplicably topple over crushing a passing school bus or flatten a local WI picnic in the next village. It is as if they believed that these sturdy built constructions could fly thousands of feet into the air and would strafe people below with glass. 


During all my childhood my Dad’s glasshouse of windows never hurt me, never cut me and never bombed me from ten thousand feet. What it did do for me is it gave me somewhere to hide, it was my Narnia wardrobe, and I pushed through row after row of sweetly smelling tomatoes. These were the days before we all under planted with basil or marigolds, in my Dad’s borders were the occasional lettuce but mainly the glasshouse beds full of tomatoes. He would stand pinching out the side shoots, his fingertips turning black, me following in his wake with a bucket that he tossed the side shoots into. The bucket would slap against my shins, I was never bored, I was always amazed that even while it was cold outside it was always warm in the glasshouse. Back then I didn’t know my Dad used a paraffin heater at the start of the season but I always remember how that smell wove in between the scent of the tomatoes. 

There is comfort in both these smells for me, even now when I am pinching out the side shoots and Little D stands by the door with my wife holding him, I know that these smells will punctuate his memories. 

Andrew Oldham writes about gardening at Pig Row. Pig Row is split into three gardens, the fruit & herb garden, the allotment and the meadow. These gardens are spread over a quarter of an acre on top of the Pennin's. Weather is not a problem there, it is a lifestyle. He has received no formal training in gardening. He ignored the gardening wisdom his father told him and opted to eat fresh peas straight from the pod. In his defence he was only six. He has learnt from his experiences of building several gardens from scratch and working an allotment. Andrew is an organic gardener and keeps chickens. His work has featured in The Sunday Times MagazineGrow Your OwnThe Cottage Gardener and on BBC Radio Four. He is an ex-BBC Journalist. He still eats most of the peas before they get to the kitchen but learnt to listen to his father.