Review: Plot 34 by Mark Keenan
Brandon Books, €15.99, Paperback
The way things are going, we could all be growing our own soon. Which means that the timing of Mark Keenan's book on allotments could not be better.
But banish straight away the idyllic images from TV gardening programmes which, as Keenan says, always show lush plants and elegant ladies in fluttering summer dresses filling their flat baskets with bunches of perfect veg, while birds tweet and bees buzz in the hazy background.
Stop, says Keenan. Allotments, he explains, are more often a sea of corrugated metal bits framing compost heaps, plastic bottles on sticks to keep birds away, old planks retaining raised beds and rotting carpet ends keeping weeds down. And frequently it's raining and mucky.
Nevertheless, he emphasises that allotments are still great fun and hugely rewarding. There's nothing like growing your own, in spite of the battles with weather and pests.
There's a sense of community on allotments and you learn a great deal about much more than just gardening.
Keenan's epiphany came when he ate a home-grown cherry tomato a few years ago. That explosion of taste meant that he could never be satisfied with a supermarket tomato again (and even less so when he discovered what commercially grown tomatoes go through).
A well-known property journalist in Dublin, he began to look around for space and ended up with an allotment at Bohernabreena, up near the Dublin Mountains. It has become his pleasure and his passion and his description of making it work through trial and error is endlessly entertaining.
This is not a straight forward 'how-to' gardening book, although readers will learn a great deal about growing your own, from planting all the way through to harvesting and storage. It's more a book about the lifestyle, about what's it's really like on a miserable wet day, trying to pull up onions in the rain. And why, when you get into it, there's nothing like it.
In passing, there's a wealth of information on the environment, on health and food, on GM and chemicals, on the benefits of putting only good stuff into our bodies and of spending more time out in the air, instead of on the sofa.
The message is put across with Keenan's laid-back humour, instead of any preaching. Interspersed throughout the book are entries from two years of his allotment diaries. This is truly a book for the times we live in.