When author of Allotted Time, Robin Shelton and his friend Steve decided to take on the daunting task of purchasing and cultivating a local allotment, both men were at crisis point and were desperate for a sense of purpose and satisfaction in their lives. After some difficult and frustrating days, the two men managed to finish the process with an impressive array of vegetables! In addition, allotmenting enabled Robin to revitalise his life and regain a sense of self-fulfilment, as well as to overcome depression following a divorce.
As we’ve launched the Britain’s Best Allotment competition, we’ve been chatting to Robin about the most memorable and enjoyable moments of his cultivation project, as well delving into his newly-acquired gardening knowledge for some valuable tips and advice on how to grow a successful allotment.
You talk in your book about the healing power that gardening had for you personally, why do you think it had such a profound impact on your life?
It sounds like a cliche (probably because it is!) but I think it's to do with fitting in with the cycles of the seasons. It's about acceptance I guess - we're often so busy trying to make things happen within a timeframe that suits us, and I think that this can lead to a lot of discontent - we get impatient. Growing stuff teaches us that some things have to happen in their own time, not ours - if we can extend that to other areas of our lives I can't help thinking that this can make us happier people.
What was it that attracted you to purchasing an allotment in the first place?
Lager! Seriously? Difficult to say really - to be brutally honest it wasn't out of any sense of ecological warfare, fighting the system or even wanting to economise (that all came later). It was more to do with novelty - a friend and I fancied giving it a go because it seemed like a bit of a giggle and something we'd never tried before.
You entered the allotment game with absolutely no experience; what would you say was your most challenging moment? Did you ever think of giving up?
I guess the obvious - when it's really cold and it feels like the slippery, backbreaking digging will simply never end it's tempting to just say 'stuff it, let's go to Tesco, but no, not really - giving up was never an option. To have given up on the allotment would have meant giving up on my writing about it. Both pursuits had their challenges, but both fed each other, erm, organically.
What was the most satisfying vegetable you managed to grow on your allotment?
Potatoes, without a doubt. Just the sheer quantity of them was staggering! And they were the first to be harvested. Or was it the peas - shucking and eating them on the spot whilst lazily watering their roots. Actually, it might well have been the carrots, just because they were huge and straight and everyone told us we'd never grow them, not in that soil!
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on the allotment?
They're not meant to be funny! Hmmm - either watching my kids eating a pot noodle where the onions once poked their heads out or watching my mate Steve figure out which end of the fork was which using the painful trial and error method.
You began your allotmenting life without much money to spend, did this limit what you were able to grow on the allotment, and how did you deal with financial constraints?
We're dead lucky - some (many) people in this world literally cannot afford to eat and have no means of sustaining themselves or their families. However skint I was when I first began growing my own, I always tried to remain mindful of these facts and that I was fortunate enough to be born in the time and place that I was. Being financially constrained, I think, leads to resourcefulness, patience, humility and gratitude. Maybe qualities that are to be striven for?
How did your family and the people of Twyford react when you decided to take up a local disused vegetable plot?
They all thought I was barking mad! At the time they were probably right. My kids, then 9 and 5 years old (now 21 and 18!) needed some encouragement at times (usually in the form of a game of football or some sort of confectionery). I think the people of Twyford didn't pay much attention to what Steve and I were doing until we decided to set up my drum kit and his guitar amp in my garage…
Not everywhere is as picturesque and rural as Twyford, do you think that people who live in cities and towns will be able to gain the same benefits that you did from allotmenting?
Of course! Probably more so if anything - yes, Twyford itself and in particular the location of the allotment there was a visual delight. Maybe taking an aesthetic pride and joy in allotment gardening might help to distract those not blessed with such picturesque surroundings.
If you could give everyone thinking of purchasing an allotment one piece of advice, what would it be?
Listen. Listen to the people around you with more experience, listen to the instructions on the seed packets, listen to the seasons and listen to your gut instincts. Sorry - was that advice for veg growing or for life in general? Hard to tell the difference sometimes...
As Robin has proven with the amazing benefits that allotmenting has provided in his life, this is a pursuit that it well worth getting involved in! Whether aiding your life by getting you back to nature, making you feel closer to your family, or just giving you a sense of pride in growing your own food, allotmenting can add to your wellbeing in a whole lot of ways. So why not throw some wellies on, grab a fork and see how allotmenting can liven up your life!
Could your allotment be the pride of Britain? Enter our competition to find Britain’s Best Allotment, in association with The National Allotment Society and National Allotments Week and you could be in with a chance of winning £1,000 worth of prizes.