Presenter Fern Britton with The Big Allotment Challenge judges, Jim Buttress, Thane Prince and Jonathan Moseley. Photograph: BBC/Silver River
The wilder, greener sister of the baking and crafting revolution, growing your own is in bloom.
Veg boxes, food swaps, pop-up gardens and pick your own flower farms; Britain is striving for a sustained connection to our kitchens, our gardens and the very soil beneath our feet. Thinking globally, growing and eating socially and seasonally, the local foodshed brims with homegrown pea tips, purple sprouting broccoli, raspberries and redcurrants. Allotmenteers jostle for space with urbanites, young families with birds that love birds. Fat blueberries, smoky figs, the tang of early lettuce. Fragile beans that squeak and taste of earth. This is as good as life gets: sustainable, aspirational DIY, and a ripe cherry for television to pick.
No pear is more exquisite than the one you have grown yourself and ceremoniously sliced. No blackberries more delicious than your own scant handful, the thrill made more intense by their scarcity. A knobbly beetroot, blemished and scuffed with nature’s perfection. A courgette or an armful. What makes us celebrate is not only what we have, but how it came to be.
Yet, blinded perhaps by bunting and ratings, BBC Two’s new offering The Big Allotment Challenge has missed this hidden trophy, that gardening is the hero here. Spontaneous, opportunistic, of light and weather, of choosing seeds and lengthening days. Instead, the process is an awkward add-on, squeezed to fit a cake-shaped hole. No early spring thinnings before late fudgy carrots, or the subtleties of June versus July. No fast lettuce, slow kale, no to lingering to nibble. No mowing, pinching, grafting work. With a format to stick to, it’s military carrots, curd making, jellying, table art. But gardening is rhythm and time and cycles. It’s the longest day and the last risk of frost. It’s pruning roses and digging potatoes, and picking when the time is right.
Has The Big Allotment Challenge been made by people who have never grown anything? Never known the sowing, growing and picking regime? They’ve heard about thrips and fungal infections, about grandad’s drainpipe, his glads and pot mums.
Pristine veg can be bought at Tesco, shrink wrapped, cut and ready to eat. But the Big Allotment Challenge shrink wraps gardening, and misses what is beyond the plate.
• Lucy Bellamy is a gardener and a former contestant on The Great British Bakeoff.