(Alamy/PA)
(Alamy/PA)

Why should I get an allotment? 4 celebrity gardeners offer the answers

For National Allotments Week, four famous gardeners reveal what having their own allotment has meant to them.

Hannah Stephenson
Monday 09 August 2021 07:00

Celebrity gardeners are encouraging aspiring plotters to register for their local community garden during this year’s National Allotments Week.

Horticultural charity Garden Organic (gardenorganic.org) is encouraging current and future allotment holders to learn about the benefits of the ‘organic way’ of growing and naturally controlling pests.

Experts from the charity are highlighting the wider benefits of allotments, which cover everything from protecting the planet, to saving us money and boosting our physical and mental health.

Put your name down now, advises Chris Collins former Blue Peter gardener and head of organic horticulture at Garden Organic.

“Try not to let waiting lists put you off pursuing your allotment dreams. Putting your name down makes your intentions real and also helps councils to manage demand and understand the importance of allotments for communities.

“While you’re waiting, improve your knowledge and plan how you’ll develop your plot from scratch.

Why plan an organic allotment?

1. To create natural pest control and see wildlife thrive

Frances Tophill, TV garden presenter and author of Rewild Your Garden, suggests investing time learning how to create havens for birds and beneficial insects like butterflies and bees is really worthwhile, even if it can be challenging.

“On my allotment last year, I had some members moaning about the ragwort I had growing but when I pointed out the wildlife it was attracting, like the cinnabar moth, they were much more receptive to it.”

She also recommends not being too tidy on your allotment. “Maintenance-wise, leave seed heads through the winter for wildlife, leave piles of leaves and twigs and piles of pots which all provide great hibernation spots for a myriad creatures.

“To look after the soil, don’t dig unnecessarily but, allow the soil to build up its own microsystems. And build a pond as near to the ground as possible to help birds, hedgehogs and many more creatures to find a safe water source.”

2. To learn by doing It yourself

Rekha Mistry, gardening writer, blogger and former BBC Allotment Challenge contestant, explains: “My allotment has been organically nurtured from the start. I’ve learned how to make my own compost, how to make my own plant feed out of nettles and comfrey and how to naturally encourage beneficial insects.

“At the beginning of my journey I used to cry when there were aphids on my plants, but not now as I realise these aphids and other pests have attracted so many natural predators like ladybirds and hoverflies that everything is getting more in balance for naturally controlling pests in my garden.

“It’s also important to grow things that you love. I like to grow unusual varieties from around the world too, using them in my own Asian cooking. For example, I grow pole beans rather than runner beans, giving me first tender young pods, later dried for stews, and Edamame beans rather than broad beans as these go well in my curries.

“I love gardening and being on my plot has helped me achieve a great sense of satisfaction, more than I could ever have imagined.”

3. To save money on your weekly shop and keep mentally and physically fit

Chris Collins, former Blue Peter gardener, suggests having an allotment will help your bank balance in the long run.

“It’s been three years since I took over a full-sized, overgrown allotment that had been left dormant for five years in Enfield, north London. It’s taken a lot of graft and experimentation but consistently using organic principles I’m now at a point where my allotment produces a shopping bag’s worth of organic food every single day.

“Organic fruit and veg can be expensive in the supermarket, so growing my own, particularly those items that are the most costly, means I save money and am eating healthily. I am also helping the environment by cutting out damaging air miles caused by imported food.

“Working on my allotment is also one of the best ways to keep fit. All those steps, the digging, the lifting, it’s a full body workout! I could spend £70 a month in the gym but instead use the allotment to keep me active.

“Spending time outside, learning about and nurturing plants is a great boost to my mental health too”.

4. To be free and creative

Jack Wallington, garden designer, journalist and author of Wild About Weeds, says: “Growing on an allotment means more to me than a place only for crops and cut flowers, though that is my main reason for having one. Allotments are spaces we can be free and creative, to try something out without fear of it going wrong.

“They connect us with the soil, seasons and wildlife and afford anyone, no matter their background or circumstance, a chance to eat food direct from the land.

“Allotments encourage equality among people and an understanding of the world you simply can’t find anywhere else. Oh, and the tomatoes and raspberries taste pretty good too.”

National Allotments Week runs from Aug 9-15. For details visit nsalg.org.uk/news-events-campaigns/national-allotments-week/.