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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
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 - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'