Another Perspective

Just to set the record straight, Australia doesn’t actually have any allotments, our first was in Sutton, Surrey near our old flat – Kylie and I have spent quite some time gardening in Australia but the country has never seen a need for allotments, probably because until quite recently the standard house came with a quarter acre block of land. Now that high density housing is becoming more popular (mostly with building companies) that may change.

The biggest difference I first noticed when we took an allotment was that Britain has soil. I know it sounds strange but you have this incredibly deep, rich, black soil. I spent a large part of my childhood digging leaf mulch into the lifeless red dirt of our back garden so just having it as standard seems luxurious! This effort eventually paid off with our garden being about a foot and a half higher than our neighbours – but it took some digging. Kylie’s family took the other route which involves arranging for a number of dumptrucks to bring topsoil in from somewhere else. It is worth noting that most of Australia’s farmland only has two inches of topsoil, and that’s not counting the 70% of the country which is desert.

The next thing one notices gardening in Britain is that when you plant something, by some miracle, it grows! It doesn’t work like that in Australia. Pity those poor convicts from the slums of pre-Victorian London who were dumped in the god-forsaken, sandy wilderness that is now Sydney and trying to plant potatoes and lettuce – it’s amazing they survived at all! Of course, this is largely due to Britain’s milder climate, rich soil and beneficial rain. Typical Australian gardening involves half of your plants dying with the soil-cracking sun beating down constantly on them (one sunny afternoon) and those that survive have a pretty decent chance of being wiped out in a flash flood. I am continually amazed in Britain that the sun isn’t really hot or at least doesn’t blaze down, the rain isn’t really wet although you do get points for consistency and it’s the wrong sort of snow anyway (I can say that as I work/ed for Railtrack).

Naturally any commentary on Australia needs to mention venomous beasties. Heavy boots, tough trousers (preferably Kevlar) and thick gloves are needed for almost any garden activity. I’ve seen a snake in the garden on two occasions but don’t be alarmed as they’re shy and very rare in the cities. The most common hazard is spiders which can be quite aggressive if they’re sitting comfortably in a warm pair of gloves and you wake them up by shoving your hand in. Bear in mind that these range from the gentle insect catchers an Englishman may be used to, through the “quite venomous but unlikely to kill you unless you are young, sick, elderly or unlucky” of the most common household spider the Redback (which is famous for having the most painful bite in the world) all the way up to “pray the ambulance doesn’t hit heavy traffic” of the female Funnelweb which is quite widespread in the coastal NSW (i.e. Sydney) area.

But don’t be too alarmed, both of us managed to survive the hazards of Australian gardening and it really adds to the whole British experience to marvel at the prolificness that is Sunnyside (Old) and the tenacity in the face of nature’s abundance (I’m writing mostly about nettles, bindweed, thistles and blackberries now) that our happy, friendly fellow allotment holders display while they are hard at work between cups of tea.

by Daniel Bartlett

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