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Finding the plot:

An insight into my allotmental wellbeing

June 2021
Andy Whelan

Hi, my name is Andy, I am a cognitive hypnotherapist trained by the Quest Institute. I currently work within the emergency services and I am using my qualifications to help colleagues going through difficult times. I am also in the process of building my private practice and hope to be seeing clients very soon.

Please let me welcome you to a part of my family’s life which is our haven. Our allotment.

About two years ago my wife Helen surprised us all by renting an allotment. At first, I must admit that I was not too keen on the idea. After all salad and vegetables are the devil’s food and if you can’t grow a large doner, then what’s the point?

On day one, I was convinced that this was a bad idea. I spent most of the day bent over, digging out weeds and old smashed bottles, preparing the soil for seeding. 

The previous guardian had buried an old carpet which needed dragging out, my glass back was screaming at me to put my feet up and grab a beer.

All this on my days off. I can think of better ways to spend my time.

I have two young girls, Lexi who is now 4 and Rosie 10. They mucked in, got dirty and took to it like Dave the Duck to water (Dave is Lexi’s favourite duck, who we feed on the nearby lake; we are dreading her finding out that Dave is in fact Davina).

One of the first things that struck me was how peaceful the allotment was. My primary job is in central London and my working day is filled with after all the hustle and bustle. Some of the people that I meet through my role are not the most pleasant, in contrast to the plot owners who were such a lovely bunch of people and some real characters.

They have affectionate nick names; Miss Marple has the plot next to us, she dresses in tweed and rides a tricycle and Wurzel is a few plots down from us.

They are all seasoned gardeners and were keen to offer us advice and guidance.

There was often a queue of elderly gentlemen at our plot offering Helen tips (usually when she was wearing a low-cut top!). We loved the characters and we soon became part of the community. The kids even went to the allotment Christmas party, with Lexi being completely baffled that Santa had a lot of the same features as the bloke on the pitch behind us!

My girls absolutely love the allotment. Lexi enjoys seeing the different mini beasts “Dadda (she’s going through an Italian phase) look, I’ve caught a bumble bee”. That one brought me out in a panic, but unlike her older sister who has developed a fear of anything crawly, she absolutely loves the bugs. I remember her tickling a spider, which started shaking, probably with fear. It was obviously a little upset with a 2-year-old scratching its back, “look dad, it’s giggling”, “Yeah, it looks really happy Lexi”.

The kids enjoy picking the wild berries and eating them fresh from the bushes. We soon discovered that the ones higher up don’t taste as dog-uriney as the ones at the bottom!

All the time the kids were learning about nature, learning about different creatures and learning how their food is grown.

It got to a stage where our youngest would only eat food if it came from the allotment – we had to tell her that we dug up a lasagne last week (it was next to the ice cream plant)! The fresh air, nature and learning about the natural world is wonderful for their well-being; there are no stresses or worries and we have such a good laugh together.

The escape from my ‘normality’ was doing me the world of good. I was going through a tough time at work, facing daily, constant confrontation and my world was not a pleasant one. I had experienced a traumatic incident a couple of years earlier and was struggling with sadness and all sorts of other bad emotions and memories, so needed to escape. The allotment became an unexpected blessing; the people were friendly and funny, the peace, quiet and serenity was refreshing.

Our allotment life is wonderful for the girls; being outside in the fresh air, experiencing nature and away from iPads and TV. They are growing their own food, seeing their breakfast eggs come from chickens’ bottoms (Lexi is waiting for them to start pooing Weetabix!).

The food they eat is organic and fresh, their experiences teaching them so and all whilst soaking up vitamin D.

My wife Helen is the hero behind everything. It was all her idea, and she does all the hard work. She learnt everything from scratch and is the driving force. I am happy to sit back and wait for my kebabs to grow, whereas Helen has done the research, the graft and the planting. She has built and sourced the wood, recycled old pallets and made a shelter, scrounged old frames to make poly tunnels.

She has had some tough lessons, but she has become resilient. Not all plantings have been successful, the wind has torn down her tunnels and ripped off the greenhouse roof. She has taken on the challenges and not let it get her down. She has enjoyed the repairing and reseeding and learned from mistakes, seeing it as feedback and not failure.

We don’t remember the failed crop of tomatoes when we’re eating the fresh new ones in a gorgeous salad . We value our food so much more, appreciating the taste and all the time and hard work that’s gone into growing them.

This allotment is our sanctuary; we’re learning all the time and as our veg grows, so do we. It can be hard work, but the rewards outweigh the tough times. For us, time stands still here in our allotment. It is our happy place.