Monday, 15 April 2013


We said 'goodbye' to our allotment on Sunday.

For non-UK readers of this blog, allotments are small parcels of land given, usually by public authorities, to be used as leisure gardens. The tradition of allotment holding can be traced back to the 'Diggers' movement during the English Civil War. The duty to provide allotments is enshrined in law. Allotments are almost always in larger groups and run as co-operatives by plot-holders. The largest area of allotments is here in Nottingham at St. Annes Hungerhills. The cost of renting a plot is less than £30 per year.

I am at least the third generation of allotment holders in my family. Here's a photo of my mum's grandad at his Bulwell, Nottingham allotment with my grandfather, his twin brother and his older brother.

Allotments are unique and characterful places. They frequently look like shanty towns from the outside with vernacular architecture and creative recycling.

Jill and I began allotment holding in 2000 at Leapool in Nottingham. Ours was 300 m2 of nettles, couch grass and seeding dock. We inherited a derelict greenhouse and a brokenbacked shed that was host to a family of rats.

a view across the allotment 2003
Over the following years we learned to associate the closing clang of the metal gates with a settling calm. Allotments are wonderful places to 'lose yourself' in the pleasure of gardening and to escape from life's pressures.

We came onto the allotment as confirmed organic gardeners thanks to Lawrence Hills books read in the late 1970's. But our practices and knowledge developed during our years at Leapool.

We were in no way trailblazers and learned more from other plotholders than we ever gave in return, but it is pleasing to see that our fellow allotment holders are now avowedly organic.  We learned the unique pleasure that comes from growing and then eating your own food. We learned how satisfying it is to move in rhythm with the seasons. We worked hard to make our plot as biodiverse as possible, learning about a range of flowers that work positively to help invertebrates.

We had often wondered just what the circumstances would be that would see us leaving our allotment, so entwined in our lives it had become. But as the demands of developing Cordwood increased, we realised that we just couldn't give the time to the allotment that we wanted too. It became a burden.

In our final years of stewardship, we had abandoned vegetable cultivation and used the allotment as a holding ground for the many shrubs and perennials we were growing on for our Cordwood gardens. This Sunday, we dug up the final ones. Plants that had become signatures of our time at Leapool: a trug full of snowdrops, primroses and cowslips, offsets of comfrey were included in that final car full.

If we had continued to be allotment holders we would have included even more wildlife friendly plants and also taken inspiration from etno-botanist James Wong and his book 'Homegrown Revolution'. If allotments are to fight for their future, providing wildlife oases will be part of the rationale for their continued existence. They must also draw in more younger gardeners - James Wong provides so much inspration for plants we can grow that go beyond spuds and brussels....

We leave behind a wonderful community of gardeners many we now count as friends and take with us many precious memories.

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