Gardening tips - allotments

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 April 2014

Jacqui Brocklehurst

Jacqui Brocklehurst

Archant

We thought it was about time you saw our favourite landscape gardener getting down and dirty. Jacqui Brocklehurst introduces us to friends who are potty about their allotment

There’s something very special about allotments. These curious areas of green, in the heart of our neighbourhoods, break up the monotony of our towns and blur our boundaries with the countryside.

These plots must drive developers crazy; their prime locations would earn any savvy builder a fortune. But this land is ours, a legacy of industrialisation when the poor were allocated enough space to grow what they could to survive. Over the years laws and covenants have protected these plots and local authorities have to provide land for those who want to grow their own, as long as there is a demand. And is there a demand? Absolutely! Edible gardening is back in fashion.

The minute I mention I have an allotment people’s eyes light up. Is it a primeval thing I wonder, this fascination with the soil and what it can produce? Even those with no desire to get their hands dirty are intrigued. It seems everyone is after a slice of the good life and no amount of mud and rain is going to stop us.

I have tended my allotment on Grosvenor Road in Sale for nine years. I still remember the feeling of absolute joy as I surveyed my plot for the first time, a plot that had been derelict for many years. The previous tenant had indulged a fascination with greenhouses, but ones that were never actually put up. As a result the ground was littered with twisted metal and shards of shattered glass. To make matters worse a thick mat of brambles, mare’s tail and bindweed had formed across the top. It took two years to break through the weeds and neglect, but what a breakthrough. Discovering the rich, dark, crumbly soil beneath was like discovering pure gold.

It’s not just my humble plot that has experienced a transformation, allotments as a whole are changing. These sites are no longer the Sunday afternoon hide-away for old men whose infamous home brews gurgled away in dilapidated sheds.

Nowadays you are more likely to find brightly coloured sheds displaying pretty windmills to catch the breeze. Men and women, young and old happily tend their plots.

Michelle Starling, 42, her husband Graham, 44 and their children Isobel, 11, Elliot, 9 and Oscar, 6 have had their plot for three years.

‘The kids all have their own little space and they take great pride in what they grow,’ explains Michelle. ‘They love shelling peas, making tasty dishes with their strawberries and growing pumpkins for Halloween.’ Parents and children alike have discovered the joys of growing their own fresh fruit and vegetables.

My own three, Daisy, 15, Poppy, 11 and Tully, 8 all love spending time on the allotment. It is a place where savour raw peas straight from the pod, make lettuce sandwiches and gorge on raspberries and strawberries. Most importantly it is a place where they discover where their food comes from, how to grow it and what it tastes like fresh from the earth.

With almost 100 plots and 150 members the Grosvenor Road site has a great community spirit. Generous plot holders will happily offer any spare seedlings around and any gluts of vegetables are freely distributed. There is even a community plot where produce can be taken in exchange for a donation to the society. The trading hut, open on a Sunday morning, is stocked with onion sets, seed potatoes, garden canes and string. Elaine Watson, 62, who runs the shop with a team of enthusiastic volunteers says: ‘It’s lovely to see people catching up and discussing ideas on what to grow. We are asked for advice on the best variety of potatoes to grow and how best to combat slugs and snails attacks. We do our best to help.’

During the week the allotment is a peaceful place to be. Lack of electricity means there is no disturbance from noisy machinery, just the gentle whirring of the mowers once a month when the grass paths are cut. These green spaces are an important habitat for our local wildlife too. There are several keen bird watchers on the site who have enjoyed seeing fieldfare and redwings feeding on fallen apples. An early morning visit may give you a glimpse of the fox cubs playing in the hedgerow. Cute as they are, they are not quite so lovely when they have spent the night rolling around in your newly planted cabbage patch!

Although waiting lists are long, Louise Black would urge you to get your name on the list. She is in charge of plots at the Grosvenor Road site and says the current waiting time is just 2 years.

As a plot holder herself she says: ‘It is definitely worth the wait. Having an allotment helps you connect with your community and with nature. You learn to live and eat seasonally and enjoy a healthy, active life. Growing your own wholesome, tasty food is fantastic.’

Allotment tips

Contact your local authority for details of nearby allotments and get yourself on several waiting lists. Plots are often large so if you are willing to share, let the site secretary know, it may shorten the waiting time.

It’s hard work but don’t give up. Encourage family members to help, they will love it too.

Grow what you can’t buy in the shops and grow something new every year. It’s fun to experiment with unusual edibles.

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