Allotment gardening: so much more than just a place to grow fruit and veg, we talk to the people reaping the benefits of an allotment
The great outdoors, fresh produce that you can proudly claim you grew yourself, a chance to meet new people and a sustainable way to put food on your table – we hardly need to sell to you the multitude of benefits the humble allotment has. With their roots dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, these gardening plots were traditionally given to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing, in an era of rapid industrialisation of the nation. Nowadays, class associations may not be relevant, but allotment gardening is more popular than ever. In fact, it is estimated that over 90,000 gardeners want an allotment and are on waiting lists (nsalg.org.uk). Whether this space allows people to boost their health and wellbeing or is a way for them to tread lighter on the Earth, we hear from two different people on what an allotment means to them.
I came to Lewes where I live now about 14 years ago and gave up my car as I started to be conscious of the planet and environment.I put my name on the list for an allotment and it took about 10 years before I got a plot – I waited a long time. My allotment is on the edge of town, so it’s not a little square among lots of other plots, it’s quite isolated and there are fields around it. It’s a real refuge – a place to go, sit and be quiet, as much as it is to grow food.
I’ve had my plot for three years now. I don’t grow anything in a straight line, the first thing I did was build a circular bed in the middle of the plot and put down a lot of compost. I suffer from migraines so I follow a migraine diet which means nothing from the ground, so I don’t eat root vegetables. I plant potassium plants such as cauliflower, artichokes and peas.
I have psoriasis, a skin condition, so I grow flowers, pick them, put them in oil and mix to create my own skin cream. It solves my complexion problems and it means I’m not buying all these mass produced products to keep my skin clear. I love growing all sorts of things – from plants to food. I find so much delight in growing blackberries, as the allotment site is edged in bramble. I have a great rhubarb patch, too which I inherited on my plot. I have fruit in my freezer all year round and I’m constantly making ice creams with it. I planted three apple trees this year as well because my son loves green apples.
The Walton Charity has been running for 800 years and we aim to improve the lives of those in the Borough of Elmbridge. My role is land and estates manager so I work a lot on the allotment side of things. Our charity has been running for 800 years. We have four allotment sites in Walton with just under 400 tenants on them spread over these locations. Each one has its own sense of community and personality. About four years ago, we had one site that was underutilised – the decision was taken to create a community allotment to encourage more people in the local area to get involved – it’s open to anyone and everyone to come along and grow fruit and vegetables. The original remit of allotment plots is to provide a space for people to be outdoors, especially when you consider more people are living in flats. It’s a way to go somewhere, breathe the fresh air and grow your own. We’ve seen more people interested in the environmental and wanting to grow food for themselves. People also want to teach their children or grandchildren where their food has come from, so growing fruit and veg at an allotment is one way of doing this. Plus, there are more and more wildlife-focused initiatives – whether that’s building small ponds, or panels with holes in them on some of the sheds to create a robin or swallow nest in a bid to encourage birds to nest on the sites.
There seems to be an urban myth about long waitlists for allotments – but certainly, in Walton, that’s not the case. People contact me when they move into the area and they think it’s like finding out you’re pregnant and putting your child’s name on a waiting list for a school space for six years.
I started running sessions with the local school outdoors for the community allotment project. That has triggered families’ interest and it’s engaged the children. We are seeing more families as a whole and a younger generation want to have their own allotments.
Karen’s top tips for a successful plot
• Don’t try to grow in the entire bed. Start small and slow.
• Visit your allotment little and often rather than coming for one weekend, once a month. You need to come for half an hour to an hour, three-four times a week. The weeds will beat you otherwise.
• When planning what you want to grow, always think of things that you can plant once and then they stay there like strawberries and soft fruit, then, on the other hand, think of things you will be planting every year like carrots or tomatoes – strike a balance between the two types of fruit and veg.
This article originally appeared in Issue 8 of Be Kind magazine, published September 2019.