Do you know or love any folk tales from the garden? I’ve always loved folk tales, but reaching back, I’m not sure I can remember one that’s quite so gardening-centric as the one I’m sharing today.
As much as I love reading the personal stories shared in GreenPrints—the ones that can make me both laugh and cry within the same stories—today’s piece from Andrew Normand, is one of my all-time favorites. This is a (new) British folktale about “The Hairy Boggart,” a small hairy creature that taunts anyone who tries to grow in “his” plot at the local allotment. The waiting list is ten years long, but in this folktale, a woman braves his plot because it’s available immediately and free.
Throughout this folk tale, the gardener makes deals with The Hairy Boggart, and each year she outsmarts him so that he never ends up with any veggies from the garden. Each way she tricks him is more funny and clever than the last, and he proceeds to get more frustrated as he goes, until … well, I’ll let you read and see how it ends!
More Stories and Folk Tales from the Garden
This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that inject the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!
The Hairy Boggart
A (new) British folktale.
By Andrew Normand
Once there was a lady who was determined to grow her own vegetables to feed her young family. She had no space at home, so went to her local allotment to ask about a plot.
“No plots free now,” the grey-haired man told her. “Shall we put you on the waiting list?”
“How long is the waiting list?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Ten years? Maybe fifteen?”
That wasn’t any good at all. “My children will be grown up by then.” She looked around in despair at all the pristine plots of vegetables. Then she spied one solitary plot that was overgrown with weeds. “What about that plot?” she said. “That looks empty.”
“That plot? That’s the Hairy Boggart’s plot. You don’t want that one.”
“But is it free? Can I have it now?”
He snorted. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The lady worked and worked on her plot, digging and weeding and preparing the soil. Just as she had it ready to start planting vegetables, a small hairy creature appeared in front of her. It jumped up and down and laughed.
“I am the Hairy Boggart! This plot is my home, and I will eat everything you grow!”
“Oh,” said the lady. “Have you been eating well these last few years?”
The Boggart stopped laughing and looked cross. “No. Not since the last one of you left. I’m sick of dandelions and bindweed.”
“Well, if you want me to grow some nice vegetables to eat, you’ll have to let me keep some of them. Otherwise I’ll just let it go back to weeds.”
The Boggart looked even grumpier at that. He gnashed his teeth and tugged at his ears. But eventually he agreed. “Half then. Half each.”
The lady spat on her hand and they shook on it. “Which half would you like? Above the ground or below the ground?”
“Above,” said the Boggart after a moment. “And make sure I get some raspberries.”
The Boggart disappeared to wherever he had come from, and the lady went back to work, turning the barren plot into a lush trove of edible treasure. He only reappeared when the first vegetables were ready to harvest. He spun around on the spot and wagged his long tongue in excitement.
“I am back to claim my share of the harvest. What have you grown for me?”
“How nice to see you,” said the lady. “I hope you like what I’ve done with the plot. There are my potatoes, carrots, parsnips—they won’t be ready for a while yet of course—beetroot, onions, radishes—and there is the raspberry cane you asked for.” She pointed at the solitary raspberry plant in one corner.
The Boggart turned bright pink, the color starting in his toes and moving all the way up to the tips of his ears. “You haven’t grown anything above the ground!”
“That’s not true,” the lady objected indignantly. “I grew the raspberries you asked for. And all the leaves are above the ground. Don’t you like leaves? I’ve heard beetroot leaves are very nutritious.”
The Boggart was hopping around on one foot and hooting with anger. “Where are the peas? The sugar snaps? The lettuce? Strawberries? Gooseberries? Broccoli? What sort of a gardener are you?”
Now the lady looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry. I am quite new to this, you see, and I don’t know how to grow those fancy things. I’m just learning to grow root vegetables to feed my children. And I asked for help with the raspberry plant just for you.”
The Boggart was partly mollified. “I will eat your leaves then. But next year I will take my half from under the ground.”
A year passed. The lady kept working away on her plot and roasting her root vegetables all the way through the Winter and the next Spring. When she next saw the Boggart, it was the height of Summer once more.
“Hello!” she greeted him with excitement. “Look at the progress I’ve made. I’ve learned so much since I last saw you. Now I am growing all those things you said and more—runner beans, French beans, sweet corn, cabbages, courgettes, pumpkins, tomatoes, blackberries—did you know you can grow them without the thorns?” She trailed off at his expression.
“Where are the root vegetables?” said the Boggart quietly.
“Oh, I’m not growing those anymore.” The lady laughed. “We had all had our fill of them by the end of Winter.”
The Boggart sat down and poured dirt over his head until he was almost buried.
“No, No, No, No, No! I don’t want to eat bean roots!” He did a somersault in frustration, then picked up a bamboo cane from the runner beans and drew a line down the middle of the allotment.
“This half of the allotment is mine.” He pointed. “This half is yours. Above the ground, below the ground, it doesn’t matter. I will see you next year and I expect to be fed!”
When he returned the following year, the allotment had come a long way. The lady had built a small shed to keep her tools. She had a deep and productive compost heap, a large comfrey plant for fertilizer, and a rich bed of wildflowers that were humming with bees and other pollinators. She also had a muddy play area containing two children working hard on a mud pie. On the other half of the allotment were all kinds of fruit and vegetables growing above and below the ground. When the Boggart saw the contents of his half of the allotment, his shoulders slumped in despair. He opened his mouth to speak, but had nothing to say.
The lady looked at the Boggart and spoke.
“I have a new deal for you. You can have whichever vegetables you like from any part of this allotment.” At this the Boggart perked up. “I’ll show you how to cook them so that they are tender and delicious, and how to store them so they are still good to eat in Winter.”
Now he was wary. “And how will you trick me this time?”
“There is no trick. All I ask is that you help. My back is getting sore from all that digging, and I can’t get anything done if no one is entertaining the children.”
And so the Boggart helped. He could always turn a crying toddler into a laughing one, and he was so low to the ground that weeding and planting came easily. He was a quick learner, too. For years he and the lady worked on the allotment together and made it one of the most productive plots around, as well as one of the happiest. The children grew up and were there less often, but still appeared from time to time to help their mother and the Boggart.
But then, one year, the lady unexpectedly moved away. “Family reasons” people had heard, and most didn’t want to risk enquiring further. The name at the top of the waiting list received an email that there was a plot available. He had put his name down as a young man at around the same time as the lady who had left, and was not quite so young any more. He was met at the gates by the same man he had spoken to years before, whose hair was now more white than grey, but who otherwise looked much the same.
“That plot is it?” The younger man nodded at the recently vacated plot, still perfectly clear and cared for.
“That’s the plot that’s come up, but it’s not the one you’re getting.” The man snorted at the thought. “You can take my old plot. That’s the Hairy Boggart’s plot, and I’m having it.” ❖
By Andrew Normand, published originally in 2021, in GreenPrints Issue #127. Illustrated by Tim Foley
What’s your favorite folk tale from the garden? Did this remind you of a similar garden story you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it.