Lucy Corry: Tales of a failed allotment holder

At least Lucy Corry gave the marathon-like task a good go.

The path of true love never runs smooth, especially if that path involves a garden. But as the great writer (and fan of gardens) Maya Angelou once said: “While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated”.

You might recall that back in March 2021 I announced my new custodianship of an allotment in Wellington’s Innermost Gardens, a secluded spot on regenerated land on Matairangi (Mt Victoria). I was completely smitten with the idea of having an allotment. I imagined myself up at my plot, digging and tilling, sowing seeds and reaping great swathes of herbs and vegetables, to say nothing of admiration and praise from passers-by.

In hindsight, my allotment fantasies were a bit misguided. Having an allotment made me realise I’m the gardening version of someone who sits on the sofa watching the marathon at the Olympics, then reckons they can go out and run 42.2km without any proper training.

Maintaining an allotment, like preparing for a marathon, is a slog. When I did run a marathon back in 2016 (please excuse the fact that I’m still bragging about it nearly six and a half years later; if you’d run one, you’d understand), it took many, many hours of training. Early mornings, late nights, sore feet and cold showers. When I hit the 38km mark, I had to stop myself from crying with relief and delight that I had nearly made it. Unlike running a marathon, looking after an allotment has no finish line. It requires consistent effort, all the time. And, dear reader, I have failed.

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I would say it started out well, but that would be a lie. It took me nearly two months to get going on the allotment and I earned a telling off from the community garden boss as a result. In my defence, I was working full-time and writing a book, so completing a full makeover on a long-neglected garden fell somewhere down the to-do list. Once that pesky book was out of the way, I tried to make up for lost time. I weeded and weeded and weeded, I dug in lots of lovely compost, I planted seedlings and I told anyone who would listen that I’d ‘just been working in the allotment’.

This worked, for a while. Then one day, when walking the dog, I realised that someone had helped themselves to my not-quite-ready lettuces. They’d neatly snipped away at the chives and picked leaves from the parsley. I didn’t know whether to be furious or sad, so I settled for both. I planted more seedlings, dug in more compost, pulled out weeds when I walked past with the dog. I had some successes, like several crops of spectacular romanesco broccoli.

I grew bushels of parsley and more kale, borage and calendula than one small household needs. Funnily enough, the allotment thief never seemed to be keen on them. More than one member of the allotment holders’ WhatsApp group bemoaned the loss of their produce, or the dismantling of their garden by a disturbed individual who was known to police and thought vegetables should be allowed to roam freely.

As my second spring at the allotment rolled around, I realised that I didn’t need to have another thing in my life to feel guilty about. It felt wrong ‘occupying’ this little strip of land and not spending enough time on it (or lending a hand in the community garden work).

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At the end of September, I told the allotment bosses that I was bowing out. I gave the plot a long-overdue tidy up to prepare it for its new custodian; realising that I was leaving them abundant chives, chickweed, calendula, and borage, plus two kinds of unkillable kale, some potatoes, a purposefully left-to-seed broccoli and an emerging rhubarb.

I feel a little pang of sorrow every time I walk past now with the dog and see the ‘Lucy’ sign lying on its side among the weeds, but I’ve got my hands dirty in a new project closer to home instead.

In October, I persuaded my husband to build us a mini-allotment in our tiny backyard to join a collection of pots and grow bags (the home of last year’s tomatoes). Much head-scratching, measuring, sawing and digging ensued.

This plot, measuring about 2.5m long and 50cm wide, is half the size of the allotment but it’s also much easier to water, weed and tend. It’s just as exposed to a wild nor-westerly wind, but it’s also just a few steps from the little shed I call my home office. In the middle of a day of remote meetings, it’s very relaxing to pop outside and have a little chat with my ‘Mangere Pole’ climbing beans or whisper words of encouragement to the tomatoes.

When I can offer some over the fence to my neighbours, I’ll know I’ve made it.

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