(Image: By Petr Vilgus)
Have you ever wanted to do some good old fashioned gardening but were forced to accept the cruel reality that you simply didn’t have your own garden?
If so, one solution stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of providing the personal garden experience, without an actual garden. That one thing is allotment gardening, and if you haven’t looked into it yet, this article will give you some food for thought.
What Is An Allotment?
Let’s start with a bit of detail and history. An allotment is an area of land divided into separate garden plots, with each plot being rented out to a different gardener, all for low costs usually ranging from between £20 and £30 per year, with the highest prices being about £100 per year.
Most allotment sites have water access and allow you to set up certain structures such as garden sheds.
Allotments are measured in “rods” (also known as “perches” or “poles) – a unit of measurement dating back to Anglo Saxon times. The average size of an allotment plot is “10 poles” which equals 250 square metres.
Now on to the history.
Allotments in the UK have a rich history which stretches back at least to the 18th Century, in their modern form, with a 1732 engraving of Birmingham showing the town as being surrounded by them. (Some of those allotments depicted in the engraving still exist today.)
The popularity of the allotment skyrocketed between the twilight years of the 19th Century and the dawn of the 20th Century, and were responsible for supplying most of the fruit and vegetables eaten by the poor during this time.
In 1873 there were 244,268 allotment plots in the UK.
During the First World War the allotments came to be referred to as “Victory Gardens”, and a successful pro -gardening propaganda campaign (using slogans such as “Dig On For Victory”) was carried out, subsequently boosting their popularity.
The end result? By 1918 there were around 1,500,000 allotment plots in the UK.
That number has tapered off dramatically since then, and in 2008 the number of plots had fallen to 330,000, with 100,000 more people on waiting lists in order to get a plot themselves.
(Image: By Vladimir Menkov)
So, now you know a bit about the history of allotments in the UK, and perhaps you’ve decided that you’re interested in moving ahead and trying to get your hands on one.
Where to start?
Well, as The National Allotment Society helpfully points out, there are various ways of going about it:
(1) Contact your local authority (Parish, Town, Borough, City or District Council) and they will provide you with a directory of the local allotment sites. From there you’ll have to register to join a waiting list and see how long it takes before fortune smiles upon you.
(2) Contact your local allotment society and ask them about privately owned allotments which don’t fall under the direct authority of the local council. This is one way of potentially dodging some of the more extreme waiting lists – although that may end up being a trade-off against more expensive rent prices.
(3) If you seem to be totally out of luck with finding an allotment in your local area, then see if you can gather together 5 of your friends and apply to the local authorities as a group, in order to have an allotment provided for you. Under Section 23 of the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act, your local authority is obliged to do you that service (although for certain technical reasons not within London.)
(4) If none of the above options seem to inspire you particularly, or if they all seem unrealistic from your current position, then there is one more option. Simply roam around your local area and see if you can find any deserted lots or unused spaces which seem like they could be “allotment material”. Once you’ve identified one of these spaces, find out who owns it and ask for permission to use it as an allotment space. You might be pleasantly surprised.
How To Clean Up An Allotment
(Image: By Jon)
The overall condition of your chosen allotment site is something to pay special attention to before either renting a plot or putting yourself on the waiting list for one. The basic principle is that you will tend to spend less time on a waiting list for a plot which is in a bit of a run-down state, and more time on a waiting list for a plot which is in tip-top condition.
The decision is yours to make – although you should be aware that renting any plot which is in noticeably poor condition will likely mean a big investment of your time and energy before you can actually get anything good to grow on the land.
How can you prepare an allotment? Here are the key things you should keep in mind about cleaning up an allotment in order to get it ready for some proper gardening:
(1) Weeds can be smothered by opaque mulches, although this takes one full growing season to be effective. This option is normally a good one for cases where you can’t get the plot completely cleared up before the first growing season.
(2) Weeds can also be tackled with systemic weed-killers, applied between Spring and Autumn
(3) Rubble must obviously be cleared away from the plot (concrete, timber, broken glass, etc.)
(4) Unwanted trees and shrubs are best dug out, but in cases where this isn’t possible you can chop them off at ground level and treat them with weed killer over an extended period of time until they die off.
(Image: By Rjholmer)