Allotments: A Plot of Your Own
The bountiful benefits of allotment gardening
More and more people are looking to live sustainably by growing their own organic produce and contributing to the local environment by giving back to nature. By harnessing the power of our green spaces with allotments across south west London and Surrey, the contact with nature can make for countless benefits.
Working a plot across the year not only benefits birds, insects and other animals, it will give you a valuable understanding of the eco-system and changes perspectives as we see the ground beneath us as a living thing with changing needs throughout the seasons. This can also go on to inspire more environmentally aware behaviour in our own actions, and our children’s. Allotment owner Tara Richards loves the impact it has on her children: “It’s a work in progress roping in reluctant near-teens, but once down the allotment they can be seen happily chatting to frogs, slugs and eating raspberries in clumps.”
This connection to nature also has numerous benefits for our own health. Mental wellbeing has been proven to drastically improve with exposure to green spaces, and gardening and nurturing plants makes people with common problems, like anxiety and depression, known to feel calmer. The physical side to gardening is also something to consider. Gardening counts as physical exercise while building up your levels of vitamin D as you soak up the sunshine.
What’s more, there is the social side to allotment gardening. “We weren’t sure what to expect as newcomers, but the allotment community is like an extended family,” recalls Tara. “We have put decking down so we frequently BBQ, and the rope swing over the river means our plot is a meeting point for the many children that form the allotment family.”
So what can be grown on an allotment? The types of crops that are allowed are often stipulated by the communal allotment committee of your patch, but traditional allotment favourites include broad beans, peas, potatoes, beetroots and courgettes.
Consider what fruit and vegetables grow in what season and plan accordingly. Consider trying your hand at cut flowers too.
In terms of costs, rent rates vary from borough to borough. In Merton, the standard allotment rent charge per 25m2 from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019 is £19.86.
According to the National Allotment Society, getting an allotment can take time as they are increasingly popular. In some boroughs you can be waiting for years. Get in touch with your local authority to join the queue, or head to the National Allotment Society website to find out about nearby plot vacancies. If you don’t have an allotment site nearby, you can get in touch with the local council and submit a letter with the backing of other keen gardeners. By law, all local authorities have an obligation to provide allotment provision.
Nearby allotments include the Bushy Park allotment next to Hampton Pool, Fulham Palace Meadow allotments, Cottenham Park allotments, Hurst Road allotment in West Molesey, and many in Merton, including Cannizaro allotments and Brooklands. There are also plenty of others to discover in our local area and council websites will have useful interactive maps to help you pinpoint the ideal location for you.
While it is rewarding, do make sure you will have the time to commit to it – some sites will do spot checks and if you’re not maintaining your plot, you could face losing it.
Top Tips for First Timers
• Clear your plot of unwanted materials and debris first, get in touch with your local allotment team who will be able to show you how to do this
• Dig out those brambles and woody plants as to avoid issues with deep rooted plants
• Consider non-chemical weed control measures to ensure organic produce
• If you have been given a plot in shade, choose your fruit and vegetables that tolerate these conditions. Beetroot, chard and redcurrants do well in shady conditions
• Check out your local plots and find out if it’s well-tended and in a good location, rather than the chance of inheriting a weedy, overgrown plot at risk of vandalism
• A full allotment plot is usually 10 rods (the way allotments are traditionally measured) or 250 sq m, but half plots are often available if this is too much to manage
• Summertime may bring droughts, so be sure to plan for and avoid growing too many crops such as celery, leafy salads and runner beans which don’t like dry soils.