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The Backache and Bounty of Allotment Gardening. ( Courtesy of British Heritage )

From surviving World War II to "back to the land" revival and even a Harrod's range, the history, and popularity of Britain's allotment plots.

Another workingman’s tradition had been hijacked for the cash-rich, time-poor middle classes. Back in 2008, Harrods launched a bespoke gardening service offering to design, create, and tend allotments for those too busy to dig themselves. For further vicarious delight, the London store installed a veg cam on its own rooftop plot, so customers could watch rocket inter alia grow before being sold in its food halls.

It was the antithesis of what allotment gardens were originally all about, which was to give the poor man space to grow veg and fruit to feed his family. It also ran counter to the spirit of my childhood recollection of “allotmenteering” in the late 1960s rural Dorset. Even then, many parents who had been raised in times of wartime food scarcities continued a “grow your own” policy on rented set-aside plots.

Off my family traipsed at weekends and evenings, down the field behind our cottage, to one of several dozen long, thin strips of land beside the old railway line: our own little world of backache and bounty. Come rain or shine, we were there digging, sowing, tending and harvesting carrots, spuds, and cabbages. We sheltered in the corrugated lean-to shed when the rain drummed down, or gently baked, like the soil, in the sun. No shop-bought lettuces, peas or turnips tasted half so luscious as those we had nurtured; no disappointment compared with a crop lost to blight.


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