So I mentioned that we stayed with Jay’s auntie for a few nights when we went to Liverpool earlier this month. She’s a great host, very relaxed and laid back, and we just came and went as we pleased really.
She lives in a suburb called Childwall, which is very close to the city, and her part of it is made up of wide roads with lots of trees and lovely Arts and Crafts era houses. Some reminded me of Clarice Cliff pottery or the covers of my old Enid Blyton books: steeply sloping roofs and windows with tiny panes, and roses around the front doors.
The area seems to have been built with a lot of careful consideration. The roads form a huge square and within it, behind every house, are allotments. Over 200 of them. Each back garden’s gate leads out into the allotments, so everyone has access to them, and it’s very much a countryside-in-the-city kind of thing.
You could see the top of the Anglican cathedral in the distance, and bits of the many tall buildings. But between them and the houses are hundreds of fruit trees and sheds, greenhouses and polytunnels, fences and hedges, lean-tos and chicken runs and fruit and vegetable patches. There are grassy paths in between each plot and it’s all laid out as a grid, although the area is just so big it’s easy to get lost (we found our way back because fortunately our host was the only one with a skylight in the roof, so that was our navigation point)…
The allotments were a great place to wander in after breakfast and in the evenings. Joe loved visiting and helping to pick peas and pull up onions. He also enjoyed hunting down slugs and watering the tomatoes and chillies.
I took far too many photographs of artichokes (some were much taller than us) and poppy seed heads. Each plot is different; some people like pretty summer houses with flowers for cutting growing alongside (roses, dahlias, gladioli) whilst others go for a purely functional and very serious approach. There was much evidence of reusing and recycling (so many old baths!) and some pretty ingenious Heath Robinson style contraptions…
I loved the imperfection of it all. Yes, some plots were incredibly neat and tidy, but most had areas that were going to seed or dense clumps of nettles. Brambles were running wild everywhere too. Visiting in the evening, in the ‘golden hour’, was perfect for taking pictures but also for just slowing down and noticing things.
Late summer is the best time for spotting seed heads and marvelling at trees groaning under the weight of ripening apples, plums and pears. There were toadstools appearing in the damp grass and the thistledown was drifting about.
It made me think about how valuable places like this are. Everyone should have access to green space, and we should all have the ability to grow our own food - even if it’s on a tiny scale. I don’t know how much this is taken into consideration when new housing is planned, but it’s so beneficial for our wellbeing. Children love seeing how food is grown, and helping to plant and harvest it. And then, of course, there’s the issue of providing vital havens for birds and insects.
I can’t imagine how much this particular plot of land would be worth to developers, or how many houses could be built there. I hope it doesn’t happen.
I love allotments. In an ideal world we’d all have access to one. It’s difficult; in the past, before moving to Scotland, I’ve been on waiting lists for a plot (some of those lists were years long and I’d always moved on before my turn arrived). I’ve approached people with neglected pieces of land to see if they’d be wiling to rent them out (I either received a firm ‘no’ or didn’t get any response at all).
Yet there are many initiatives up and down the country where people grow food on verges and canal banks, in parks and on the edges of school fields. I don’t know what the answer is when space is tight but our visit to a suburban oasis was really inspiring and proved that theses places are so very important for wildlife, community and wellbeing.