This week The National Allotment Society is running their annual ‘National Allotments Week’ campaign providing the ideal opportunity to explore the world of allotment-keeping in our latest blog.
The allotment system is deeply entwined in UK history dating back to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors who operated a rudimentary version of the system. Allotments have often provided the population with support in times of need. The current system appears to have been developed in the early Nineteenth Century as a means of enabling the disadvantaged, without the luxury of their own land or gardens, to provide food for themselves.
Towards the end of WW1, the scheme was expanded so that land would be made available to anyone, largely to help returning service men. With food shortages and unemployment high, it enabled people to provide for themselves and their families, while aiding the mental recovery of service men as they re-entered society.
Recently, there has been a surge of interest as people increasingly enjoy outdoor pastimes to escape from stressful jobs and unwelcome world news. Combine this with a growing interest in eating food that is produced locally and safely and there is a compelling argument for the organic, responsible approach of ‘home-grown’ produce. One of the joys of the allotment is the element of control in knowing how and where your food has been grown.
As people across the UK appear to be appreciating the beauty of the natural world, dreams of the open air, exercise and fresh produce have driven demand for plots sky high. According to The National Allotment Society, waiting lists for allotments in some areas have increased by 300%, and as much as 500% in one area.
It seems that becoming the guardian of one of the UK’s 300,000 allotment plots is a bit of a coup, so we asked our in-house allotment-holder, Customer Services Manager Emily Kirkland, for the low-down on life at the allotment.
A well-planned plot
Emily has proved that there’s no limit to what you can grow on an allotment. The plot she tends is an established plot, divided into four separate beds. Three of these beds are dedicated to some serious fruit and veg production. Every inch is filled with different bean varieties, a mix of courgettes, pumpkins, asparagus, more courgettes, Tromboncino squash, parsnips, potatoes, beetroot, onions and shallots, soft fruits and yet more courgettes.
Then there are the greenhouse and poly-tunnel, which were inherited with the plot and have recently undergone some major maintenance, keeping the more sensitive plants like chillis, sweet peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, melons, salad and herbs at their preferred temperature and humidity.
There’s even room for a wildlife area with a small pond at the end of one bed. The rest of the plot is given up to as many water butts and troughs as possible, to assist with watering when establishing new plants and for anything in need of a soak during particularly dry spells. The communal tap can be used but in the interests of water preservation, hoses are not allowed.
This year, happy that the she’s mastered the ‘regular’ veg, Emily has experimented with Luffa Gourds and is now considering trying her hand at peanuts in the greenhouse, next year. Plans are also underway for a bit of reorganisation to make room for a flower bed.
A valued community
The physical and mental health benefits of gardening are well known and covered in our previous blog posts, Coming up Roses – how gardening can help you thrive with your long-term health condition, Gardeneering – the new health and happiness hero and Gardening: A full body workout for the mind & body, but there’s an important social aspect that seems to be less well publicised.
As an allotment-holder Emily has found herself entering a whole new community. There are all walks of life at her allotment, mostly on a similar wavelength – at least where gardening is concerned. It’s common for skills and experience to be shared in the group as the older generation happily pass on years of hints and tips.
The sharing extends to everything from seeds, plants and produce, to paint and chicken wire, as people offer spares to fellow allotment-holders via a ‘share table’.
The social side of keeping an allotment can be a lifeline and Emily witnesses the community spirit when tea, cake and a chat are shared on a daily basis. That’s quite apart from the organised social events open to everyone who keeps an allotment at the site, including bank holiday barbecues, a Christmas get together, summer evening beers and the annual show with its traditional gentle rivalry.
As a child, Emily spent time with her Dad pottering in the family veggie patch and isn’t alone in now experiencing a pull back to the simplicity and the satisfaction of this rewarding pastime.
A long-time supporter of the allotment system is Phil Gomersall, President of the National Allotment Society and Secretary of Victory Garden Allotments in Leeds. In 2018, he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to Horticulture in Yorkshire and can often be seen around the country promoting the benefits of allotment renting so we asked him for his thoughts on the value of the allotment: "Allotments have always been a healthy recreational pastime, but they have been a real godsend for 1000s during the coronavirus pandemic. The benefits of working an allotment have really come to the fore.
"Perhaps now planners may heed what many in the community want and councils may start to fulfil their legal obligations to provide more allotments where there is demand."
Of course, a veg plot doesn’t have to be on a formal allotment site. With the right planning, a productive plot can be established in the smallest of gardens, front gardens, a local park with the relevant permission or, with a bit of creativity and perhaps some upcycling, a planter can be made from almost anything and positioned on a balcony, roof terrace or even hung on a garage wall.
If you’re interested in learning more about allotments why not head over to The National Allotment Society website or apply for a plot on the Government website.
Author: Hannah McGouran, Rolawn
As Rolawn’s resident Copy and Digital Content Creator Hannah draws on her degree in Linguistics and Social Sciences, many years of marketing experience and a love of gardening, to make the world of turf, topsoil, barks and mulches accessible to the masses.