Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: growing food
Gardens and allotments
We asked people about their parents’ vegetable gardens, and were surprised that in a number of areas, particularly Wensleydale, there seemed to be no tradition of cottage gardening. We had been asking the wrong question! In the North Yorkshire Dales there is no pattern to vegetable and fruit growing land. Margaret Emmerson’s father (in Gilling West, Swaledale) had two pieces of land on which to grow vegetables: the triangular plot that was reached from the lane (not the house) and a field that he shared with the farmer he worked for.
In the Dales land is precious and needed for livestock. Garths (enclosed paddocks either owned or rented but not necessarily close to the farm or cottage), which in other areas of the country might have been gardens, are used for grazing lambs and calves. Tofts (land running behind a cottage) and allotments on which to grow vegetables and fruit weren’t necessarily next to the cottage but were allotted to cottagers out in the open fields. (Listen to Rhoda Fraser's oral history here)
Vegetable plots in open fields have been allotted to cottagers and farm labourers since the 19th-century Enclosure Acts. Cottages such as those in Middleham, Wensleydale face directly on to the street and back on to each other with a ginnel or alley running between them. Hens, a pig and/or a cow were kept on allotments and in gardens as a way of storing fresh food.
Council housing was built in towns such as Richmond (Swaledale) from the 1930s onwards. The schemes were planned with gardens, each divided by low hedges. The front garden was filled with colourful flowers, often annuals, and a small lawn, the grass taken from local common land at dusk.
Vegetables and soft fruit were grown out the back. Not everyone liked gardening, but over the neatly clipped hedges eachkept their eye on each other, either for tips or to feel smugly superior if their crop worked and their neighbours’ didn’t.