Patch perfect: A book about Britain's allotment holders challenges traditional notions of cool

 

Cool's become watered down. Once upon a time it meant Miles Davis, Keith Richards, Serge Gainsbourg… In 2013, cool is everywhere, and thus, rather less meaningful. If I Google "cool" now, the number-one result is "Cool Math Games". Ahem.

The dissipation of "cool" means the term can now be applied with impunity to formerly non-cool items such as beach huts, baking and appliqué cushions in the shape of dogs. And it's becoming self-reinforcing. If you see a book about "cool" cupcakes, you can bet there will also be a lot of Cath Kidston and beach barbecues in it. Now look, I'm not averse to a bit of Cath Kidston, or camper vans, come to think of it, but One Direction and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront are not compatible visions of cool.

So with all of these ideas in my head, I spoke to Lia Leendertz. A trained gardener and passionate grower, she has channelled her love of communal veg plots into several lovely books, including her most recent, My Cool Allotment (£14.99, Pavilion). Fortunately, she's one of those people whose slightly Frenchy chic might actually qualify her to judge the issue. The first time I met her, she was wearing a seductively jaunty pale-green wool sequinned beret, worn at an angle.

"Ah yes, that was a good hat, wasn't it?" Leendertz says wistfully, as I remind her. She's one of Bristol's gentlest inhabitants, verging on shy, with a tendency to start laughing with unexpected enthusiasm, and a nice line in stylish accessories. But get her on the subject of allotments being taken over by developers for building, and she'll definitely get cross. "Pretty ranty," in fact, is how she puts it herself.

Particularly when the occupants of fine old sites with well-cultivated soil are evicted and (following the law) are offered new plots elsewhere, often at a substantial distance. "Allotments are as much a part of our heritage as any other landscape," she says. "Most are well over 100 years old, yet there's this idea that you can provide a 'replacement site' on some crap bit of out-of-town land and that's the same thing."

The allotments she writes about in her most recent book aren't cool in the sense that you might think. There's not a Cath Kidston peg bag to be seen. Instead, these are real gardeners making Britain beautiful. There's one allotment in the book, aflame with dahlias, that has been owned by the same family for 65 years.

For Leendertz, this was the joy of writing the book. "From the real old boys doing things in the old-fashioned way, to people who'd moved to this country from somewhere else and are growing the food they miss – I came away with something different from every single allotment. I went to see a woman called Rachel Baker and she'd grown loads of unusual fruit especially so she could make beautiful jam out of it and sell it. It just made me want to do the same."

With photographer Mark Diacono, she searched out the most interesting, inspiring allotment holders, and spent much of the 2012 growing season going to meet them. "It was supposed to be a very simple celebration of allotments – it's not complicated, it's not trying to tell you how to do anything, it's just taking really beautiful examples, and saying look at this. All these different people have done something so different within the exact same plot of land."

So having met all these fantastic people, did she change anything about her own allotment? "Ah," she laughs. "I'm going to grow more flowers. I'm quite keen to grow a lot more edible flowers, and make my plot more pretty. Especially zinnias; I really like zinnias. I think I love that kind of Mexican palette generally in life."

And did she have a favourite? She thinks a moment more. "Actually, I thought Cleve West's allotment was really wonderful." A multiple Chelsea Gold-medal winner, West has an allotment to the far west of London where he spends much of his free time. "He's painted every bit of wood black and it's given the whole plot this visual identity," Leendertz elaborates. "It's a very light touch but it works. You can tell he's a garden designer," she says, with a chuckle. So no floral retro radios, just paint it all black? Now that's cool.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss