Being an Australian, the allotment is a foreign concept to me — a strange bend of backyard veggie patch and market garden. This film, too, is a rather strange blend — part gentle British comedy, part documentary, part commentary of the way immigrants and refugees are treated in the UK. And all the parts don't quite come together as a cohesive whole.
Set in Liverpool and based on real-life cases, the main plot strand — for there are many, oh yes indeed — concerns Chinese asylum seeker Kung Sang (Wong, last seen in Sunshine) who is withdrawn and refuses to speak, for reasons that ultimately become clear. His children take him to a social worker at the local health centre, and she has a radical plan: give him a plot to work at the Blacktree Road allotment — because, she says, working outdoors and growing things are therapeutic and might get him to open up. Of course, this irritates the locals — there are waiting lists for plots, how dare these 'reffos' get preferential treatment. And led by fascist bully-boy former cop Big John (Jackson), the allotment committee decides to make things hard for the newcomers — as well and Sang and his two kids, there's widowed Zimbabwean Miriam and her son, along with Iranian doctor Ali and his family.
The committee decides the best way drive off the unwanted foreigners is by strictly enforcing the stuffy allotment bylaws (all sheds must be painted a uniform colour, no ball games, no barbecues, among others) with the reasoning that it will be easy to kick them out if they break the rules. Of course, the refugee families work hard to fit in and eventually win over the bulk of the allotment owners, with plenty of schmaltzy moments and a few genuine laughs (especially to do with the painting of sheds) along the way. Director Richard Laxton first proposed Grow Your Own as a documentary, but managed to sell the idea as a feature. And although it's stuffed to the gills with familiar British TV actors who all give sterling performances, ultimately it may have worked better had it stayed a doco. As such, it's a pleasant little English comedy that tries hard but ultimately fails to live up to its potential.