Reflective visits

The weather was kind. Organising outdoor events during late summer is not for the feint of heart and in the end all four visits to the 1918 allotment were a great success. For those of you who were not able to come by here is a flavour of how they went.


I met visitors at the Elder Stubbs Charity Allotment gates. Elder Stubbs is a particularly beautiful allotment site that has been going for over a century. The invitation was for visitors to remember to get their hands into the earth when they got to the 1918 Allotment as the soil holds the memory of all of the people who have cultivated there over the years. Walking through the site I pointed out what I think is one of the special features of allotment sites. Even though there are many people on them growing as it were together on the site – every plot is individual and can give clues to the type of person if you are able to ‘read’ different growing styles and landscapes. Some of my favourite examples from the site include the Spanish way of growing beans which end up with densely covered teepee- shaped poles behind which lies an immaculate shed. The shed has an elegantly curved window. Typical English sheds are more functional and can have a recycled aesthetic with some known for their casual leans to one side or another. Further into the site is a glorious visual pun. A plot holder has planted her vegetables into ornate bed frames playing with the meaning of ‘vegetable bed’. And there are those who show their off-site connections  and roots by raising national or regional flags such as one from Cornwall which flutters over the site.


After taking in various plots, I encouraged visitors to participate in a little shirin-yoku or Japanese forest bathing. Elder Stubbs is unusual for having a little forest on it (and sculpture park) and we walked in silence through the forest taking in the sounds of birds, crunched twigs and the occasional falling walnut or cherry. From the forest we emerged into the 1918 Allotment. As well as travelling back in time by engaging with the ‘clean as a whistle’ aesthetic of the plot, I offered the visitors jam which I had made from the strawberry patch on the plot. Accompanying it was other food and drink including World War One inspired navy rum. The 1918 Allotment explores themes of the 1918/1919 (or forgotten) pandemic, the current pandemic and also World War One. Soldiers at the front were served rum three times a day. It is sobering to remember that they were being prepared to get into a state to be able to kill people they had never met. On the 1918 Allotment the rum remembered them but also marked a conviviality. Some visitors had it neat, others with tea and others still with coffee or cocoa. There was home-made elderflower cordial for those who preferred a non-alcoholic drink.


The food was followed by poetry readings given by myself and my guest poets – Laura Theis and Dr Yewande Okuleye. As well as the themes already mentioned the poems also explored meanings of home, gardens and East and West African soldiers, experiences of the Great War. The sessions closed with my answering questions about my research and there was a chance for visitors to simply take in the atmosphere of the plot and take home a party bag with produce from it. We had visitors from Oxford, London, Cirencester and other parts of the country, some of whom had come to specifically remember loved ones they had lost  who had a connection to growing. As one visitor said, they ‘enjoyed encountering history in a living context’. Thanks to the Humanities Cultural Programme at TORCH, FIG, Arts Council England and the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography there is still more to come. In the coming spring there will be a discussion event exhibition as we launch the publication of poetry that has been written alongside my 1918 research. Watch this space.

Plants growing up a rope netting