Allotment Tales: Zen and the art of allotment maintenance.

  • Source: The Scotsman
  • Date: 12 February, 2005
  • Author: Antonia Swinson

I realise that the spirituality of allotments is not a usual subject for the weekend gardening pages, but reading recently that GPs are being urged by the government to coax the nation off anti-depressants, it is maybe worth a line. For in a dissembling world, full of spin, stress, mis-selling, disinformation, and unrealistic targets, I believe it is the spiritual peace allotments provide that lies behind the joy allotmenteers so often feel.

Now readers may wonder why allotments could be more spiritually special than, say, ordinary gardens? Perhaps the reason is that plot-holders must travel to their allotments, and once there, can only stay for a while. Maybe it is this commitment, combined with limitations of time and distance, which provides the mechanism for observing nature closely. With such intensity of concentration mental space develops for deeper thoughts, and with it, the right conditions for spiritual growth - as necessary for health as any vitamins. With practice, if one believes in God, we might even hope for a little two-way conversation, if He feels like getting in touch.

Now this does not mean of course that allotmenteers float around in some sort of holier-than-thou reverie. Trust me, our language gets distinctly fruity when couch grass roots refuse to yield, or slugs, foxes and vandals do their worst. Yet this is a parallel moral universe where good and evil engage in constant, honest battle, and all of life is here. This week, for example, I am planting parsnips, that most delicious and underrated of vegetables. Sliding over my trowel comes the longest worm I have ever seen. Just watching him ooze away into the black earth has an extraordinary therapeutic beauty, and the moment fixes itself into my mind?s eye.

Unless one is retired, time for allotmenteering is short, slotted tightly between home and work. Hence the reason I opt for box beds - I can work half a bed in half an hour - I am also expert in keeping clean, so I can visit en route to the office. "Just where is my spiritual space?" I sometimes ask myself as, clock-watching desperately, I belt back to the main road.

Yet allotments? secret alchemy works when it chooses. In the small hours, when, like millions, I find myself wide awake, work worries piling up in a mental in-tray, suddenly into my mind may come the allotment - the beauty of that solitary worm, the smell of the air, the promise of those neatly spaced parsnip seeds. And I am instantly at peace. Love in action? Who knows? For it passes all understanding and all logic too.

Monday, 11 December, 2017
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