So today, as planned, the Potwell Inn crew turned out to build the recycled greenhouse on our second son’s allotment in Bristol. I had thought we’d only get as far as levelling the foundation, but the threatened rain didn’t come, and we managed to assemble the whole frame before we left. Madame and our daughter in law brought the grandchildren down with hot pasties at lunchtime, and the day was a delight from start to finish.
Second hand greenhouses can be a bit of a liability; the glass is very fragile and doesn’t travel at all well, the process of assembly can be a nightmare if you don’t know how the bits go together. The assembly instructions – which can often be downloaded if you know the make and model of the greenhouse – are sometimes a bit impenetrable. In this case we had dismantled the greenhouse ourselves a couple of months ago, and I’d already built a similar but smaller model on our own plot, so I had a pretty good idea how it all went. My best advice if you’re taking on an old greenhouse is to try and dismantle it yourself as we did – so you know all the bits are there. I don’t know of any way to buy individual missing parts. My other recommendation is to buy all new nuts and bolts, spring clips and rubber strip and get a special greenhouse spanner -they’re worth their weight in gold.
But the greatest pleasure was simply being together and working together without any tensions. Everyone talks about the challenges of parenting babies and teenagers, but our experience has been that the transition from being parents of children to parents of adults has been the trickiest of all. We had to take a step back and let the boys lead and there were many moments when we felt a bit marginal to their lives. But a decade on, we’ve weathered a few storms and come out closer than we’ve ever been. I used the jokey heading about barn raising because when we work together as a family on a shared project it becomes (without getting religious about it) sacramental. Outwardly hammering pegs, fixing boards and raising beams while inwardly celebrating each other’s gifts.
All three of our children are good cooks, good gardeners and thoroughly committed religious sceptics – the last part comes from years of seeing the church from the inside! Allotmenteering seems to be on the increase again, possibly the prospect of unaffordable organic food post brexit, and the likelihood of global climate breakdown has focused our minds on providing for ourselves. But a day on someone else’s allotment is as rewarding as a day on our own – maybe we should offer training opportunities so new allotmenteers could increase their skills. Gardening is better as a community activity.