The barrow necessities

Talking of wheels, it seems to me that some of the plotters only look fully themselves when their arms are extended into something wheelbarrow-shaped. Horticulturally speaking, what goes together like a gardener-and-barrow? You can't have one without the other.

Take Joe. Barrowless, he looks like a platypus who has mislaid his duckbill.

Only the other morning as I unlocked the gate, the selfsame Irishman appeared from behind like a lightning bolt. He was barrowed and propellant. His wheel rolled sturdily, not at all constrained by the humongous load of branches, logs, and tree trunks contained above it.

"Ah," says he as I hold the gate open for him and his arboreal plunder, "a great load of manure, don't you think?" His humor is ... well, it's Irish. Either that or he can't, just now, see the muck for the fallen trees. In recent gales, the trees went down like ninepins all over the park in which the allotments reside. Plotters with wood-burning stoves, like Joe, have not been slow to gather the advantageous potential of the situation.

I don't think there is a plotholder who can possibly get by without a barrow. Though, come to think of it, I am not sure Neil the carpet man has one. He does have a baby buggy, though, and the Visiting Artist on her last brief appearance had the temerity to ask him why. He looked as if she had asked a terribly obvious question. "To carry vegetables to the gate," he smiled. The added words "of course" were clearly written all over his eyes.

This time of year, the plot barrows are tipped against sheds, or topsy-turvied like beached boats, or just left standing (three-quarters filled with rainwater) wherever last used.

Others, no doubt, like mine, are sheltered in sheds. Red's (with which he has fetched substantial loads of manure from the stables over the winter months, in spite of having informed me firmly that he hasn't used manure for years) currently stands in one of his soil-valleys, immovable until the frozen ground melts.

A quick allotment-wide surveillance suggests to me that some plotters actually collect barrows as others collect, say, modern sculpture or antique vases. One plot, I'm not sure whose, along the row from mine, has four that I could see. One is evidently still active (at least it stands hopefully on a patch of recently dug black earth), but three are abandoned, decidedly. Their tattered pneumatic tires and rusting tubular arms and elbows stick up skyward from the depths of the compost heap in the far corner.

I imagine they have, over the years, given up the ghost in one or more of the ways in which your basic barrow traditionally concludes its usefulness. And they've all, no doubt, been heaved in disgruntlement by their ungrateful owner onto his waste mound.

BUT does he really believe that they will soon transmogrify into usable plant food along with the decomposing weeds? The fact is that the wheelbarrows will still be there, lazily corroding, a quarter century from now.

The plot barrows are not fancy ones. No sign of those brightly colored "ball barrows" so cannily invented by James Dyson, designer-extraordinaire. (Sadly, they are no longer on the market, or I might start saving for one.) No hefty old ex-Victorian-kitchen-garden barrows constructed of big planks and wooden wheels. Nothing child-sized.

Nothing gendered like the delightful-sounding barrow the Visiting Artist fondly owns. "A 'lady's barrow,'" she says, "from a secondhand shop in Northumberland." No, no. Just your rudimentary builder's steel barrow. Or what Glasgow vernacular aptly abbreviates to "barra."

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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