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An unexpected bounty

You only have to glance at my tatty plot to see the season is over. It's in the "sear and yellow leaf" mode. Our revels now, as it were, are ended.

The raspberries need their old canes chopped and their new ones tied to stakes. I've cut down most of the runner-bean row, but the defunct sweet peas are still a tottering tangle. The compost heap grows ever-heapier with all this waste vegetable matter. But I love composting. It's one of the rewards of the cyclical event known as gardening. It means fresh beginnings out of tired endings.

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Even in this endgame there are still beets and parsnips to pull, half a dozen carrots, some celery, two red cabbages, rainbow chard, Jerusalem artichokes. The giant sunflower heads, each honeycombed with seeds neat in their individual cells, must be cut and dried and the seeds saved. Hungry birds, bluetits mostly, raid them daily, and I promised Neil sufficient seed to make his plot a sunflower patch next year.

One head will provide enough.

It is this largess and plenty that staggers. One single seed turns into many hundreds.

An American friend asks me about our harvest celebrations over here. "Ah, but you don't do Thanksgiving do you?" she interrupts herself. "Not really," I say.

But I had to inform her that we British folk were staging all manner of harvest festivals long before immigration hit America. The Pilgrim Fathers, I suggested, offering their annual thankfulness and celebrating the arts of agriculture and survival, were probably giving New World form to the Anglican Church's ancient annual tradition.

This tradition, though somewhat faded now, was still going strong in the 19th century. In the 1930s, in Clare Leighton's "Country Matters" (Macmillan, 1937), a grandmother could tell her granddaughter (though this was in September, not November): "When I was a girl, we did things properly. Why, at Harvest Festival we lined each side of the road right through the village with our fruit and vegetables and flowers. The church wasn't big enough for all we had to give and show...."

But today?

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Truth is, I don't see any jubilant, pumpkinny or apply get-togethers on our particular plots. Perhaps it's different in rural parts. But here in the city, we live compartmented existences, and all we do to celebrate harvest is take food home from the supermarket and eat it with the family. Except that now we're told even the daily communal family meal - the only time whole families traditionally come/came together - is dying or dead.

The allotments are also compartmented. But they have, all the same, an air best summed up in an old-sounding word: comradeship. This is not gardening at home. It is public gardening. We plotters are loosely held together by a shared place and interest.

Oh, there are plenty of grumblings and mumblings, of course. But I have still found here a kind of undemanding friendship that rings true. It is free of binding ties. We come and go whenever. But there are always yelled greetings, quiet absorbing chin-wags, advice modestly disguised, and continual little gestures of generosity.

'The Plot So Far" comes to a close today. The writing ends, though the plot lives on. Apart from Red and Joe and company, other unexpected friends have appeared. They (or rather you), quite astonishingly dedicated readers of these small weekly squibs, live all over the place. You've written most amiable and fascinating letters. Others of you are great e-mailers. You are, very touchingly, the spreading circles of a stone tossed into a little local pond. I count you as fellow plotters, naturally.

It's inestimable fun growing things, be they vegetables or friendships.

In fact, I can't quite decide which I like best....

*Last in a series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland. The series began May 27, 1998.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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