The putterers plant themselves

Now's the time for leeks. And leaks. Billy Fullerton was entering in at the gate. "This morning," he announced, "I'll know." Normally laconic, Billy proceeded to be garrulous about roof-drips.

His shed had been letting in water for several days. The problem was along the ridge. He applied sealant. This did the trick: Next day, the water squeezed through a different hole. So he moved the collecting-bucket. Lavished further lashings of sealant. The water relocated. He shifted the bucket yet again....

Meanwhile, half of Red's roofing-felt had been ripped clean off by disrespectful winds. I caught him some days later monkeying about, high up on his alpine shed-slopes, walloping in galvanized nails to secure double-thick, extra-heavy plastic sheeting. You might say there's an anti-leak mood in the air.

These homemade sheds may be rudimentary, but they serve a crucial purpose. They're much more than mere shelters. Red's is a large affair with aspirations of barnhood; he built it round an existing shed, which he then dismantled. Some sheds are slapped-together plywood. Some are concocted of secondhand doors and windows. Some have grown, like cathedrals, by accretion.

The sheds are homes away from home. And some plotters, it seems, like them better than their regular homes.

I think that two cultures are at large on our allotments: gardening - and shedding. Shed-culture exists internationally. I have an Australian book, for instance, called "Blokes & Sheds," and another on the same subject from New Zealand. A book called "Cabin Fever," by a French woman, also charmingly investigates "sheds and shelters, huts and hideaways," a number of them bordered by rows of onions and greens and nasturtiums.

Three days before Christmas, I had a chat with Neil about sheds. He has inherited a splendid, rather ramshackle one with a low roof that he intends, being a tall bloke, to raise. Mine is a bland utilitarian box, though I can stand up in it. I feel it could be better. But, Neil pointed out, I am not down on the plot for long enough each day to really warrant ambitious home improvements. "And when you are here," he added, "you're always working."

This wasn't an accusation, more an observation. But it implied I am really missing something.

Partly what I am missing is being unemployed (like Neil) or retired (like many of the plotters). These are preconditions for full-time plotting and real, all-day shedding.

Neil's eyes light up when he talks about his shed. I suspect it means more to him than his carpet-covered plot. It has an old car seat in it, and a cast-iron fireplace, a table with a camping stove on it, a cupboard for provisions, and, mysteriously, a child's stroller.

NEIL in residence is a lordly sight. The shed is his manor house, his HQ, his domain. "I plan to spend Christmas Day in it," he said. "I have this friend from Chile. He celebrates on the 24th. I'm joining him. Then - wonderful! - on the 25th, I'll be in my shed. I've been saving wood for the fire and food and...."

As he verbally pictured his Christmas opt-out, he did not sound like Scrooge to me. He sounded like a man who has his simple priorities all worked out. I don't think he intended to do any gardening. His aim was to shut his shed door, perch on his car seat, legs stretched. Stoke his fire. Eat. Muse. And let the smoke curl merrily upward.

"What could possibly be better?" he inquired.

When I see him next, maybe six weeks from now, I'll ask him if his plan succeeded.

* This series will now go dormant for six weeks. It will resprout in mid-February.

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