It wasn’t so long ago that growing your own was the preserve of weirdy-beardy types or the kinds of salt-o’-the-earth grandads who keep their faded corduroy trousers in place with bailing twine. Spuds, snips and swedes were the staples of these lifetime allotment keepers. And everyone was happy to let them get on with it.
But something’s happened over the past few years – a new army of would-be Good Lifers has picked up their spades and is swelling the ranks of the grow-it-yourself brigade. Hot on the heels of slow food, baking and sewing revivals, it was inevitable that gardening and its associated pastimes were next in line.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society, 89% of 16- to 24-year-olds have a garden or allotment, or grow plants at home or on a balcony. Gardening has grown up and it seems everyone’s at it. Rustic willow wigwams of runner beans are popping up all over the place, and there are more upcycled wine crates stuffed with herbs than you can shake a seed packet at. Yes, the garden gate’s swung wide open and we’re all digging in.
Perhaps surprisingly (or not), the majority of The Good Life aspirants are in the cities. Enter the … trowels-on-buckets drumroll please … rurbanite – the rural-urban hipster who wants a slice of the country without straying too far from a decent flat white. Like the lumbersexual, whose scratchy facial hair, plaid shirt and woodsman-like gait hint at an aching for the Appalachians, the rurbanite has his heart in the country but his head firmly in the city.
The rurbanite may well work in digital marketing, but at the end of the day likes nothing better than watering a vertical allotment of cut-and-come-again salad leaves or checking on demijohns of fermenting elderflower champagne. Serving up a bowl of just-plucked radishes to accompany dinner imbues a satisfying sense of connection with the land – even if that land is just a pot of peat-free compost.
Some rurbanites keep chickens, though not in traditional wooden hutches – so passe. The hipster houses his hens in funky plastic coops in garish colours squarely aimed at the iPhone generation. These fowl fanciers indulge their penchant for heritage breeds that wouldn’t look out of place strutting their stuff down the catwalk, let alone the chicken pen.
A few brave souls have even taken the plunge and left the city behind to settle the green and pleasant land that lies somewhere far beyond the home counties. They retain a sense of their urban roots by prolifically tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking their day-to-day trials and tribulations. One smallholder I know regularly updates his profile with pictures of newborn lambs – followed a few weeks later by advertising mates’ rates on bulk packs of freezer-ready chops.
If it’s the urban jungle that’s given birth to this revolution, I suspect it’s a reaction to the increasingly vaporous lives of the city dweller. These transient souls want something more tangible, eschewing celebrity and media-obsessed culture for something they can actually touch, smell and taste. They want mud under their nails, and the suspense which only that first sip of homebrew can bring.
While the recently launched Tory manifesto pledges a return of the good life, fuelled by tax cuts for “hard-working families”, many of us are already well on the way to The Good Life, fuelled by peapod burgundy. And just like Tom and Barbara, the rurbanites are proving it can be done without access to rambling acres. They’re living the dream, albeit at shoebox-flat proportions.
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