Birthday thoughts and inspiration from the past

January for me is often melancholic. Deep midwinter. Yesterday was my birthday. Too close to Christmas. A time for taking stock. For giving thanks. For looking back as much as forward. Something I am prone to do anyway.

We are still exiled from the allotments. So much gardening now is done in my head. How will it be with new soil on the old site? How to bring it to life? Will we need to garden it differently? How do we feel about no-dig? All to be decided.

Exile was a constant in my early childhood. Being transplanted. New parents, new names, new places to live. Getting my family visa renewed. Putting down new roots.

Gardening brought me comfort. New life from old land was the lesson. Spring always following winter. Needing to hold on longer.

Christopher, my older brother, strayed. I stayed – though I loved walking alone along the river, searching for flashes of kingfisher. Listening for curlews.

Land quickly connected me. Sowing my first flowers. Digging Dad’s new potatoes for Saturday or Sunday lunch. Watching butterflies swarming on the buddleia. I was fascinated by their almost anxious flight.

Nasturtiums saved me. A perfect first flower: bright, transforming, super reliable. Their vines reached out. Needy, even greedy, like me.

My first job in London aged 19 was at a plant nursery. A Kensington and Chelsea world of competitive window boxes, potted summer planting. I collected the misshapen and broken shrubs and plants. I rooted through skips.

I gave unwanted shrubs and plants a home in our gardens. Front and back, indoors and out. Others I planted out along the street. It took me a long while to realise there was a reason other than the sheer joy in colour. Though there is always that, too…

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from

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