There can’t be many Twyfordians practising the same skills that their great-grandparents used, but you’ll find dozens of them down at the Hurst Road Allotments. Tucked in a corner between the train station and the Twyford Brook, church records show that the land was first rented for allotment use in 1887. The landowners were from the Palmers of Sonning, and in 1913, after one particular Wade-Palmer escalated the rents, Twyford Parish Council stepped in to purchase the land and keep it as allotments for the good of the community.
A century ago allotmenters tended to invest a great deal of time tending comparatively large plots. Nowadays we can choose almost any size, and lots of beginners start with plots just a few yards square. Some even put down weed-matting instead of having to weed, and use copper tape to keep the slugs away – innovations our great-grandparents would surely have loved!
Lots of staple vegetables are grown in exactly the same way as back then – however, in many cases we now grow much tastier varieties than they ever knew, or that our supermarkets have yet discovered – and if you fancy creamy European pumpkins, say, or the oystery root of salsify, or the lemony zing of Peruvian oca, they’re trivial to grow, but impossible to buy in the shops.
And as for some of the things you CAN buy in the shops – how do they cost that much? If you’ve ever grown a few courgette plants, you know they tend to grow like wildfire, sprouting endless courgettes for months, till you’re giving them away by the bagful. The joy of almost-free veg, growing almost by itself, is hard to describe. Five-year-old plum trees may provide hundreds of plums a year; you may need a bigger freezer.
And then you may notice, a few plots down, the 50-year-old tree that provides thousands of plums a year; one day yours will, too.
Because occasionally history cycles round on the allotments: for example, in the corner furthest from the train station is a “rod bed” of coppiced Hazel trees, laid out to provide poles for allotmenters’ use in fencing and plant support, which has recently begun returning to popularity.
Hurst Road is a 130-year-old Twyford community that links the old to the new, and the people to each other. And it needs the Twyford community to survive: with its location, others may wish to reuse the land for financial gain, given the modern tendency to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
But we might at least know the price of courgettes, and the value of growing them.