Allotment column: can you dig it?

Allotment column: can you dig it?

by Sian Bryant.

For one of the first times in my life, I am in the unfamiliar position of being ‘on trend’.

Sadly, it has nothing to do with my sense of style but everything to do with a small plot of land that I recently become the proud owner of.

My accessories of choice are not the latest Gucci handbag but a small collection of ‘seen better days’ gardening tools that I discovered during a root around in the garage.

My chat is not based on the gossip columns of the glossy magazines but of the most effective organic deterrents for aphids and slugs.

Yes. My name is Sian, and I am an allotment owner.

It turns out that I am not alone in my new found enthusiasm for ploughing my own land. Not since the 1970s and the hey-day of Margot and chums has the ‘good life’ held so much appeal.

According to estimates, some 100,000 people are on a waiting list for one nation-wide while housing developers have been known to include them in planning applications in response to demand. The popularity of grow-your-own and being mindful of healthy eating has spurred scores of people to take to their trowels, novice or not, to see what they can produce for themselves.

Allotmenteering (is that even a word?) and the passion for it, was evident when I posted a message to announce news of my land acquisition to my social media friends and found the response overwhelming. It was on a par with the birth of my children and the time I met Paul Daniels in terms of popularity… who knew?

I must say at this point that I have not undertaken this venture as a sole enterprise. It was my neighbour and friend Rachel who had the foresight to put her name down on the waiting list some five years ago.

Within seconds of receiving the phone call to say her name had crept to the top of the list, and recognising this was a venture that would be all the more fun with a pal with whom she could enjoy a glass of something cold as we hoed the vegetable beds – she arrived at my door.

Despite the fact I have two jobs, two children, am a school governor, try to maintain a social life and see my husband on occasion, the answer was an immediate yes!

We arranged to go and view our ‘plot’ and meet the allotment chief who was incredibly helpful and encouraging. He was also a very intuitive man as he quickly realised we did not have a clue what we were up to and spent, and continues to spend, much of his time giving us the benefit of his wisdom. Turns out he is not alone in his generosity. 

After officially taking charge of our land we spent the next weekend dedicated to clearing and turning over* the ground to make way for the bounty of fruit and veg we were definitely going to produce. 

Helping us right from the off in this endeavour was the rest of the allotment community. Talk about a helpful and generous bunch; they have been nothing sort of selfless in their offerings of surplus plants and seeds, tool hire and equipment sharing. 

Of course this also means we find ourselves exchanging more than just pleasantries and before we know it are conversing about the dangers of planting carrots in stony soil, and how netting really is essential if you want to avoid the pigeons swiping all your strawberries.

Nevertheless significant progress has been made I the first few weeks of our shared endeavour and our 2.5-rod** plot is now home to a variety of donated plants, of what sort I know not, but we were very grateful for them.

Unfortunately, a spell of shocking weather has hampered further significant development ( I fear we may be fair-weather gardeners) so I think the ambition of becoming self-sufficient is a bit of a way off.  However, we are praying for warmer weather so that glass of something cold can be properly enjoyed as we natter about tomato blight and snail control.

*proper allotment terminology

**official unit of allotment measurement