On ageing

When I was 17 I worked in an old people’s home.  I made a lot of tea and encountered a lot of bodily fluids.   Perhaps I made too much tea. 

It was a sad place, surrounded by people stained by time and regret. None of us wanted to be there; not me, not them. Though at the time, sloshing commodes for half the minimum wage was better than being in my parental home.  I left that job the minute my A levels were over, with barely more than a guilty backwards glance into freedom.

And that was there my incursion with old age ended.  Until I took on an allotment.

I’m sure there are allotment sites where the majority of people are fit young things, sporting Hunter wellies and organic bamboo clothing, where the crops are as trendy and experimental as those that tend them. The kind of allotments where the waiting lists are 10 years long and the list of rules even longer.

Well not here. There are some families starting to emerge (some don’t last a season) but the majority of plot holders are in their seventies and eighties. Some are even older, still guarding their stalwart crops of cabbages, cauliflowers and runner beans.

When I arrived three and a half years ago, kids and all-terrain buggy in tow, I could almost sense them placing bets behind closed shed doors on how long I’d last.  I bristled myself to stand against sexism and youthism, but ended up burying my assumptions on the weed pile.

I owe it to these men (and occasional woman) who in one sense, but not another, have time on their hands.  They’ve cleared up glass when vandals have smashed my greenhouse ‘cos of the littl’uns’ – they’ve watered my seedlings when I haven’t been around, ‘wouldn’t want to let ‘em die’ and they’ve consistently told me to ‘throw a few slug pellets down there.’ That’s one piece of advice I’ve ignored.

I’ve heard tales of hernias and hip replacements, and have been the general go-to for baby wipes and minor first aid. I’ve learned how to prevent carrot fly and which beans to grow. And I’ve learned that an allotment is a far better place to be old than an old people’s home. Even if all you can do is shuffle down the path, then sit and gaze at the tulips.

These people are in the winter of their life, but at the allotment, Winter is always followed by Spring. I wish I’d dug an allotment in the back of that old people’s home.


About Becky Dickinson

Mum of three. Writer, blogger, grower. Trying to keep my head above the compost heap.

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  1. Lydia says:

    Thats sweet. My grandmother lived alone in her home until she was 93 and she had always loved gardening. During the war she grew chrysanthemums to sell to make ends meet. I think her daily walk around her garden & pottering in her beloved greenhouse kept her happy and hopeful as she aged. I too worked in several old folks homes in my student days & the worst thing was that there was nothing for them to do or even talk about each day, the majority were just existing and trying not to be any trouble to anyone. All care homes should have a garden, no matter how small, with raised beds if possible. Even if they cannot physically dig and weed it gives people a communal talking point and a connection with the seasons which they otherwise rarely experience in their over-heated, stale aired, day time tv seeped existence. “Dig For Vitality!”

  2. Hello Allotment Mum, I have been reading your blog for some time now and I love your post. I worked in a hospice in my teens, I work in an organic community garden now, run by a inspirational man in his 80s. Just because you get old doesn’t mean you get dumb too! Great reading, Blue x

    • Hi blue thanks for your lovely comment, that garden sounds great. I really hope homes for old people have improved since I was there x

  3. I love advice from those who know what they are talking about from experience, you are lucky to have such a rich resource to hand. Bet they are always checking you’re doing it right too though! katie x

  4. Good for you for sticking with it 🙂

  5. Our allotment site has a lot of older folk too. I hear tales of other allotmenteers past and present, get given seeds to sow – wrapped in prescription bags and pinned to my shed, shown homemade contraptions and get told that raised beds are a waste of time, it all should be in perfect rows. Sadly there are also sad tales, lots of spouses leaving this mortal plane, leaving a lonely man/woman that come here to reminisce of carrots and potatoes grown for their young families once upon a time.

  6. Lovely post. Very emotional. Lovely that they cleared up the glass, so sweet. The old folks on my allotment are the same… they know so much about what will grow and what won’t, and are so generous with their time, advice and produce. I love the community feel of the place, and the chance to mix with folk I wouldn’t be likely to meet in ordinary life. I’m convinced that even if I get no produce I will still be better off in terms of health and happiness because of having an allotment.

  7. My nan spent the last of her years in a care home. There were well kept gardens to sit in yet I always thought why not a few veg patches where residents could grow some produce or even their favourite flowers. I am sure it would have enabled residents to have made friends and improved the quality of life, sure beats bingo and sitting in chairs against the wall staring into space. The kitchen could have used the produce for meals too.

  8. liz leigh says:

    I inherited my allotment from a gentlemen in his late nineties who only gave up because he had gone blind and his wife had got fed up with being told off for doing it wrong! He had that plot for 50 years.

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