So, having said I was still interested in having a plot, I had to wait until the following weekend until I could go and choose which allotment I wanted as there were two to choose from. You hear horror stories of people waiting years for one plot and there I was six months later with a choice of two! I’ve since come to understand, the how, why and when councils release certain plots does not always appear logical and is a subject debated by many but perhaps not on here.
I, plus one obliging husband, were shown around by the chairman or our local allotment committee and the first plot we were shown sounded great as it had been described as already having a shed on it. But when we saw it, the shed was in a terrible state and would need to be replaced, it was under an enormous tree which I knew would be no good because of the shade the tree would produce and its roots would suck any moisture out of the ground. The ground itself was uneven and horribly overgrown and I’ll be honest, my heart sank. For all my bravado and ‘gung-ho’ attitude, I have never done anything like this before and all I could see was a whole heap of work I hadn’t bargained on. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Note to self, do your homework first! We made polite noises and crossed our fingers that the second plot would be better.
As soon as I saw the second plot I fell in love with the space. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it instantly felt right. Physically, the approach to it is between two buildings about 1 metre apart which then opens up onto the plot, so you get the feeling of opening a door onto a garden. The left hand side had already been strimmed so we were able to see the level of the ground and on the right, well, we had to take our guide’s word for it, it was completely over grown but in there, he assured us, were raspberry canes and a rhubarb crown… one of the first things I wanted to plant was some fruit so the positives of this plot were just racking up. There was no shed on the plot, but there was a designated brick shed (at a small extra cost) a short distance away… It was a no-brainer, I looked at my husband – we were both smiling and nodding at each other and by the time we’d left I’d signed on the dotted line and was technically the proud holder of Plot no.7.
Councils have differing rules, regulations and fees depending on where you live. For instance some allotments have access to water, some don’t, some have toilets, some don’t and the annual fees usually reflect this. Luckily our allotments have access to toilets and to mains water. We’re not allowed hosepipes but a bit of leg work humping watering cans back and forth never hurt anyone… it helps that the bathtub that serves as our reservoir is only about 50 feet away from our plot (to access the mains tap to fill the bathtub means entering the men’s loo as it’s on their wall, but needs must). The cost varies greatly too and you are charged by the perch or pole… what, the what? Yes, allotments are measured by the perch, pole or by the rod (they all mean the same thing), it’s an ancient Anglo-Saxon way of measuring apparently with 10 poles being the usual size of an allotment. That’s 250 sq metres to you and me, or the equivalent of a doubles tennis court – our plot is approximately 170 sq metres which is fine for us… although as someone else said, ‘never underestimate the gardener’s appetite for a bigger plot’ 😉
We inherited some raspberry canes, red currant, black currant and gooseberry bushes, a rhubarb crown, a couple of young apple trees, a young tree that I couldn’t identify and a whole lot of weed and there was a path running along the boundary that I found when I started clearing. However, all I could see was potential. I was full of ideas, ‘we could do this, we could grow that, and that, and I’ve always wanted to grow that etc’… Husband’s eyes were almost stuck skyward by now.
From experience there are really only a few things to think of initially before signing for a plot-
Who you are growing for? The rules will state that you cannot grow for financial gain, so anything you grow must be for personal use. You may be growing for your family large or small or you maybe looking to create a community allotment. For a community plot you will definitely need guidance from your council but all these considerations will help you think about the size plot you are being offered. Is there scope to have two plots side by side, for instance. If you are growing in a back garden I’d suggest having a think about exactly what you want from it, but in my experience there are always ways of getting everything in, it’s just a question of how much space you want to dedicate to each and being creative with your ideas. Don’t forget, unless you are concreting structures in, everything can be re positioned – something I usefully learned very early on 🙂
Another consideration is how much spare time do you have? – Allotments, like a lot of things in life work on the concept of ‘you get back what you put in’. The vast majority of vacant plots are in a poor state when you take them on and will need some sort of attention before you get to plant anything and most people will tell you allotments are a lot of work. That said, I hope this doesn’t put you off. Even if you only have a few hours a week to dedicate to your plot, you will still get rewards. There’s a great book that I read early on called The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz reviewed here by Jack Wallington It describes the concept of how ‘a little and often’ gets you great results. The size growing area you have will also dictate how much time you will either need or want to give.
Only grow things you like. You’d be surprised the number of social media posts there are from people complaining they have a glut of a particular vegetable and they don’t even like it. There’s no point wasting time and energy growing something and then not having a use for it – whether it’s fruit or veg to eat, or flowers to look at.
I am biased of course as I just love what I have taken on and would encourage anyone to have a go no matter what size growing area you have.
In my next post I will talk you through the steps I took in getting our plot into a workable space and how to navigate the sometimes conflicting advice you’ll undoubtedly get if you are growing your own.