It's National Allotment Week, and there's never been a better time to put your better foot forward and dig for a very personal victory.
Last month, we reported how a poll of 1,500 UK adults for Gardeners' World magazine found that gardeners score higher than the average person on measures including how worthwhile they believe their life is and how satisfied they are with their life generally.
My parents have had an allotment for nearly 40 years, in the grounds between Hampton Open Air Swimming Pool and Bushy Park.
As a child, I resented bitterly being dragged up there nearly every Sunday, left with my book or my bike, while they carefully measured out rows with bits of string, and concocted scarecrows out of old plastic bottles.
Worse was being called upon for watering duties. This was before a whole load of new taps got installed at helpful intervals between the plots, and I was too small to carry a full-size watering can, so instead, I would wobble with a wheelbarrow along the track from the communal tank. I'm sure I got posted on this perilous errand just to keep me out of trouble. There was probably a hose hidden in the shed.
I can't tell you how excrutiating I found the whole enterprise, even the moment of ultimate gardener's gratification, when I had to nod at all the different crops sprouting - the radishes, the carrots, one ridiculous marrow, the pride and joy of the sweet peas - when all I wanted was a Wimpy.
Four decades on, and my father has gone, but the allotment has not. Now, of course, in my wizened medium age, I have discovered a fresh love for this plentiful bit of turf, and am one of several allotment partners with whom my mum has shared both digging duties and crop rewards.
So, for those yet to discover the delights of an allotment, here, off the top of my head, are five reasons, in this age of austerity, why you too could do worse than apply for an allotment and set about creating a small turf of one's own...
Forget fruitless hours on a cross-trainer. A few hours digging will bring a happy glow to anyone's brow, and that's without the miles up and down the path and rows with the watering can. (Even with the new taps... unbelievable.)
2. Fresh Air
Even in the centre of the city, you can feel the benefits of being out and about, walking between plants, spotting the odd bit of wildlife, with the hum of traffic a satisfying distance away.
3. Healthy Produce
It's a lot easier to feel inclined to munch on some carrots when you've grown them yourself. And the good thing about growing your own fruit and veg, is that you get to decide exactly what food you most like to eat, and design your plot accordingly.
4. The Social Aspect
You can feel comradeship between allotment dwellers, all setting out to do the same thing, and you can be as social or as self-contained as suits you.
Most sets of allotments have their own Association, which can help you share tips and tools, and someone is always on hand to compare crops, commiserate when "the frost got them" or to proffer a bit of spare rhubarb. Even with these new taps, there are many conversations to be had at the communal tanks. Many of the allotments at Bushy Park have tables and chairs nestled in the corner, and you can often hear the pop of a cork on a summer's day.
5. The Act Of Creativity
As our days become increasingly sedentary, based in front of screens or screaming into mobile phones, it's a rare treat to be tucked away, creating something fine and wholesome, and to watch something spring into life from what was once a tiny pack of seeds.
Because you can get allotments of different sizes, you needn't bite off more than you can chew, but can start small to see if you like it. And, even if you're not sure at first, I urge you to dig in (sorry!) until you start to see the fruits of your efforts. There's nothing like picking your first strawberries, and eating them with cream, even if, in certain cases, it does come four decades after your first reluctant wobble with a wheelbarrow.
More:The Third Metric
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