Market gardens and allotments

Sometimes the everyday things are just as evocative as the exceptional. I first noticed the neat allotments or market gardens on the outskirts of Barcelona on the coach ride from Colonia Güell: they were beside the motorway junctions and contained (I noted enviously) artichokes and broad beans. Now that I’m back on the train at the start of my journey home (hello rain, hello frost), I’ve seen more of them – oddly-shaped plots shoe-horned in between roads and rail lines. These are Mediterranean cousins to the orderly allotments visible from the train at, say, Wolverton or Leighton Buzzard.

I even want to make an even more tenuous connection to an article I read in New Scientist, which suggested that the human transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist was a far lengthier process than we normally assume. It referred to small plots in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, where people plant a few crops or fruit trees in a clearing and use them for food in addition to their usual foraging and hunting. Thus the two methods co-exist; archaeological evidence indicates that this kind of parallel may have been the same in the past (starting 14,500 years ago or even earlier). Anyway, I am going to apply this to my own way of finding food: I forage in the food section of Marks & Spencer and eke out what I bring home with the potatoes and gooseberries that I plant in my own little clearing (aka “the garden”).

But seriously, for some of us, the urge to try to grow something edible is overwhelming. I haven’t passed by it for a while, but I distinctly remember the small front garden (unwalled – had the walls been removed to maximise sunlight?) of a house owned by one of the Bletchley Italian families where each year there were tomatoes or peppers growing in a little patch among the cracked concrete.

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