The Very British Art of Allotment Gardening

The British are a bit on the bashful side. We don’t sing our own praises and as a rule we don’t put ourselves forward, we don’t push to the front and say “look at me!”.  It’s that British reserve.

And that British reserve is in full action on my allotments. Hours upon hours are spent on our respective plots, tending our seedlings, trimming this, tieing that back, caring and nurturing our precious stock.

And eventually the time comes when you start picking the produce – the bounty for all your hard work. And it is then that the British allotment gardeners display their true colours. There is no big bragging going on here – in fact it seems like the exact opposite is in action.

The very British way of gardening and not singing your own praises.

The perfect looking mooli is commented upon, and you instantly decry it, you say “oh but that’s the only one out of 25 that wasn’t eaten by slugs”. The lovely cabbage you carry home and when complimented on it, you reply “hmm, not had enough water this year have we?” or of the bunch of healthy carrots “yeeees, they are ok, but the leeks have been pathetic this year” or the fabulous blood-red beetroot “well it’s a bit large, probably woody inside”. Or on the perfect crisp lettuce being carried home for lunch, “Oh the blackfly is the worst I’ve ever known it, not a single broad bean to be had”.

You see we don’t take compliments, we don’t huff and puff our achievements up, we don’t open our tail feathers like Kupa, and display them for all the world to see expecting compliments to come flooding in. We are bashful and shy about our achievements but happy to witter on about the things that didn’t work. We detract from ourselves and our achievements. We decry and deny. We both happily and willingly point out our failings.

But at the same time we openly and gamely point to our complimenters plot and marvel at their wonderful produce, their straight lines, their neatly mown paths, the heavily laden fruit trees. And they in turn say, “oh but the weeds have been such a problem this Spring” or “half the onions have got white rot and have had to be pulled and destroyed” or the classic “dreadful germination problems”. You see we are happy to celebrate other people’s successes. But publicly admit to our own? Heaven forbid!

And around we go, never fully taking the compliment in public. But all the time smiling and nodding and agreeing with our fellow gardeners. All done very politely and gently. And off we go with a shrug and a smile.

When we get home and unpack our bags, we take a look at our pickings, we wash them and trim them. We sit back and think about what we will eat for dinner, and maybe, just maybe permit ourselves a little smile. “Hmmm not bad, shame about the …..


    • 🙂 thank you. What made me giggle is that I take lots of photos of the great veggies, but very few of the compost bound ones!!

  • Claire, you are spot on with this one, though I think it also true for gardeners in general. Gardenfreshtomatoes added the perfect phrase that I hear every time I visit someone’s garden and try very hard not to say myself! Wonderful post!

  • Nice post. Gardening breeds a certain humility (often from real failure), besides if you say it was a “great” year maybe others will expect you to give them some of your lovely produce…;-)

  • All of that said with a bit of a sigh. Although, I am a bit boastful about weeds and bugs. And drought. And Hail. And wind.

    • I’m definitely boastful about slugs and snails – I have the most, the biggest, the smallest, the hungriest, the badest, meanest bunch EVER!

  • Ah self depreciating behavior is alive and well in the States! I am forever trying to keep my negative comments about my recipe testing to myself! As with cabbages and carrots, we all struggle for perfection in an imperfect world.

  • Funny. Reading this makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Judging mind pops up to say, “That’s not healthy,” except for the mature part about celebrating others’ successes. In the U.S. women self-deprecate a lot, men not so much, so we are re-educating ourselves not to do it.

    • Good point Sharyn, I should take a leaf out of the “non-depreciating book” more often. I was speaking to a friend the other day who is an HR professional and he told me about how women routinely under sell themselves. It makes me cross to think about it, but when I’m honest with myself I realise I do the same.

  • Some part of me must be English, which I know is not possible! Time we all just said Yes, and Thanks 🙂

  • Oh you have hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head with this post! And it isn’t just about gardening where the English are not able to accept compliments.
    And the comment about women and self-depreciation from TheKaleChronicles (I can’t possibly use her frst name yet we haven’t been formally introduced…:-)) I heard that as well this week, heaven knows where. It is so true and also something we should not do. But oh we do…….

    • Yup a proverbial nail on the head – how about the “worm that turned” for another proverb that maybe we should collectively adopt!

  • Its almost like we are afraid to jinx oursleves by admitting thats yes we did a darn fine job!
    I know I am guilty of being the first to acknowledge the failures in the garden rather than the successes

    • Maybe you are right, but as a gardener you know that every year is different – too wet. too cold, too hot. We have our excuses already lined up don’t we?!
      But I think we should celebrate our successes, and maybe with blogging that’s a comfortable way to to it.
      And lovely to “meet” you, thanks for popping in 🙂

  • Very funny, our quirks and foibles! Though we do have to watch out for the self-deprecating habit, I think of this – as it applies to gardening – as simply humorous. Maybe gardeners don’t want to tempt the fates by being too boastful, or sure of their harvest?! Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks for your comment Cindy, maybe we think we are tempting fate I don’t know. I do always think gardeners are optomists, to believe in what we do will produce something worthwhile!

  • You dashed my pretense that I pull from my UK heritage, Claire! I like to think that I have a lot of my grandmother in me…I have this “thing” about the Queen and all…but my American habits betray all that! I get proudly giddy at each and every garden success and proudly go on and on as though I’ve personally accomplished something quite wonderful. I’m literally chuckling at this! I know your observations are quite true, and in giant contrast, so are mine! Maybe we need to meet somewhere in the middle? I do think that sometimes our cultural imprints are just so interesting! Debra

    • Yes, let’s meet in the middle Debra!! I like the idea of feeling proudly giddy, it sounds like agreat place to be. I’ll readily admit to being chuffed when I try something new and it works out well, it’s just admiting it in public that is the tricky part 🙂

  • I think there’s a lot to admire in restraint and modesty. Obviously, there are good points and bad points in any society, but I think that this characteristic that you have described could very well be a model for many others.

    • As ever Shimon I enjoy your reflections and take on life and the world. Sometimes I do wonder if it is false modesty at work though!

  • Can’t say I have met a British person in real life (only fabulously virtually) but looks like I now know what to expect 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  • Anytime a group of people are joined in something competitive, they don’t want to seem un-sportsmanlike, or arrogant, and from your descriptions, Allottment gardening has a bit of the individual sport to it!

    In the States, we mainly garden alone, as Three Well Beings so beautifully stated, so if we’re thrilled by a veggie yield or well-germinated seedlings, we can screech “YES” accompanied by a personal “touchdown!!” dance, and no one takes offense!! (well maybe the neighbors, but who likes them anyway?! 😉 )

    Putting a cultural spin on things was a most wonderful way to end your series on “The Allottment,” Clare! I loved every post and all the great comments!

    • Thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed your trip to the allotments 🙂
      You know I suppose it does have an element of the competitive, although obviously it’s not what it’s about but as you wander around you can’t help but compare and think why aren’t my veggies looking as good as that!!

  • I have just found your blog and have spent a lovely hour reading through your archives. I too have an allotment, love cooking and a trying to live a more simple life (I live on a boat). I look forward to getting to know you. Oh and when we have a real surplus, such as a courgette mountain, all we do is complain about what we are going to do with them all!

    • Lovely to meet you too, so you have a boat as well as an allotment !
      Ahhhh the old courgette glut conundrum!! Too funny. Every year I say 3 plants are more than enough and what happens every year? Yup more than 3 plants 🙂

  • Kupa says NEEL NEEL.. I think that means thank you for the mention.. and my mother always told me that if someone gives you a compliment say thank you. and the piggies will have all the extra courgettes .. we sometimes get good ones but most of them are eaten by bugs!! he he he c

    • What made me giggle Celi is that I forgot to put the link to your site….. oh for a brain bigger than the size of a pea!
      So the piggies will get extra courgettes, I know where to send mine now

  • Honestly, your post made me want to plan a trip to England! I do love the wonderful USA, but sometimes I get tired of the “look at me, look at me” attitude that is fairly prevalent here. I miss shy and reserved people (and I am not shy and reserved, but I do think we need a balance…). A little modesty is a good thing:)

    • You know sometimes I need to the YES, YES attitude. A good dose of enthusiasm is good for the soul. So let’s meet in the middle 🙂

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