When gardening simply breaks your heart...

Allotments flooded at Cottonmill Lane, Sopwell, St Albans. Photo supplied by Peter Wares

Allotments flooded at Cottonmill Lane, Sopwell, St Albans. Photo supplied by Peter Wares - Credit: Photo supplied by Peter Wares

The newspapers have been full of the terrible flooding that has been affecting parts of the country in recent weeks. I truly feel for those who have been displaced from their homes, and who have lost everything.

I speak from experience when I say that I feel for them – having personally lost a lot, and having to move out of my house for almost a year, following the flooding in 2007 when I was living in another region.

At that time, I was heartbroken to lose some of my material possessions – there were photographs and things which were irreplaceable, and the mental torment which can follow losing your home, even for a short period of time, can be unimaginable.

For me, the one image which sticks in my mind from that time, was my garden. I only had a small garden, and to see it completely covered in dirty brown water was terrible. Back then I only had a small back garden, but it was the first garden that was truly mine, and I had worked hard to make it look beautiful. I had planted hundreds of bulbs and I had spent whatever spare money I had on buying rose bushes and shrubs for the borders.

The flood waters went down eventually, and the garden revealed itself again – it didn’t seem as bad as I had thought it might be – the lawn was pretty soggy, but the garden was more resilient than I was, and started to take control again. Sadly, we had to move out of the house for a number of months, and into a rented flat, whilst the works were done to repair our home.

During this time, I was without a garden. I was without my garden. The months that I spent not being able to get out and garden were very miserable ones for me – we had moved to a flat, with no outdoor space, and I found it hard not being able to get out and garden. I know that many people live in properties without gardens, and I am the first to suggest all kinds of alternatives, such as allotments, or shared garden schemes, but for me, at that time, those were not available in the short term.

So, it was with this in mind, that I truly felt heartbreak upon driving to work last week. Driving past the allotments in St Albans, and seeing them completely submerged under water. I hadn’t really considered that there had been any damage in this area, having not heard any reports of flooding locally to here. I was surprised to see the amount of water, and I truly sympathised with the allotment holders. Those who don’t have an allotment, or who have never had an allotment, will probably argue that it would have been a lot worse if it were homes which had been flooded, and of course I agree.

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I believe strongly that the most important thing in these situations, is that people are safe, and that possessions can, on the whole, be replaced. I am sure that this will have been of small consolation to those who have worked hard on these allotments. So much time and care is put in to the keeping of an allotment, and so much hope for the harvest which it will bring, that if for any reason it is damaged – either by animals, or vandals, or indeed in this case, flood water – it can truly be heartbreaking.

Each day when I drove past, I felt terribly sad at the sight of these well-tended allotments ravaged by the flood water, until one morning I drove past and saw that the water had all but disappeared. It will no doubt take some time for the allotment holders to get their vegetable patches back to normal, and I’m sure they will already be clearing up the damage – the reason I am so sure of this, is that gardeners are, on the whole, a fairly hardy lot. Allotment holders more than most! They are often out gardening in all weathers, when other people would be tucked up warm at home.

I have seen a real Blitz spirit amongst those affected by the flood water on the news and I’m sure it will be no different here in St Albans. From what I could see, not all of the allotments were affected – those lying on higher ground may have just escaped the damage, but I’m sure the allotmenteers will all be helping each other out, because allotments normally have a real sense of community.

For me, when I could get back into my garden again, it would have been easy to become defeatist about the task that lay ahead, but the garden itself won’t let you do that.

Somewhere a small flower will grow, or a green shoot will come up, to remind you that the garden is still there – it might be pretty sodden, but it will come back again. A garden can be a great healer!