Our allotment is the loveliest in the community garden complex, though officially it's the worst, as it sits against the back fence under the shade of a couple of maples, so that I've had to plant a third of it with shade-loving ferns, impatiens and begonias. But we've put a plank against the fence, on two upturned buckets, and I've tied an old cushion to the plank, and this is where I am reading my latest summer read: Travels with Virginia Woolf, edited and commented upon by the great travel writer Jan Morris. At sunset the sky goes pink behind the very Spanish steeple of the church beyond the garden keeper's hut, and garden number 222 is a sanctuary.
The community gardens are sandwiched between the very busy Rue Christophe Colombe and Rue Boyer. I love nothing more than pretending to assiduously tend my patch while actually examining the tenderly-cultivated squares of other people: matching bits of a torn ruby-red nightie keeping tomato plants tied to sticks; rubber boots upturned on stakes made out of old hockey-sticks; watering cans beside the big barrel where a stream runs silver in the pink evening from a community tap. There are children, and old men, and pregnant women, and a very chic young woman in a dress far too lovely for gardening, yet there she is, tying up her peas and trailing her asymmetrical hemline.
The old men use space wisely: there are frilly, bright lime coloured lettuces sticking diagonally out of the extreme edges of their squares, leaning outward, hardly within the boundaries at all. Someone has a row of hot chili pepper bushes, the peppers white and purple now, with a slight fiery red barely beginning to break through. Each square, each patch, has its own curator, its special form and function, its own relationship to beauty or usefulness. Today I planted an Italian eggplant, a piece of lemon balm, a wide row of scattered arugula seeds, and about forty impatiens plants that I found for a dollar at the corner depanneur whose owner had given up on them. This is the official story of the work I did, but the real work was the drinking in of other people's glorious, humble bits of garden. The improvised sticks, the ribbons and buckets, the cloches and furrows and errant marigolds and abandoned rhubarb... all in the glow of the sunset behind the Spanish steeple: a sacred place.