Getting your green fingers on an allotment

Whether you’re a green-fingered guru or hardly know your onions from your shallots, having an allotment can be a wonderful way to relax. But how do you go around getting one?

If you’ve downsized to a house with a small garden or moved into a flat, allotments are the perfect way to enjoy some green space and get creative with your cultivation.

When you imagine an allotment, it’s easy to think of well-worked rows of carrots, potatoes and tomatoes, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’ve a passion for petunias, then you could devote your entire plot to a riot of colour, or if you love all things berry, then you would have the chance to jam-pack your space with strawbs and rasps (not forgetting gooseberries and blackberries!) Some people even make their allotments into oases of calm, with a nice lawned area that’s perfect for a couple of deckchairs where you can unwind with a flask of tea and a biscuit or two.

However you choose to use your plot, having an allotment is a great way to make new friends, work off some calories and get a healthy injection of vitamin D by spending some time outdoors.

Most areas of the UK will have local allotments – find out where yours is by checking with your local authority or, if you’re in England or Wales, use this easy search facility on the government website https://www.gov.uk/apply-allotment. Your local authority will provide you with a list of nearby sites, where you can add your name to the waiting list.

Unfortunately allotments are popular – so this may mean a long wait – in some places of up to 10 years!

Unfortunately allotments are popular – so this may mean a long wait – in some places of up to 10 years! There are about 330,000 plots in the UK, but the National Allotment Society reckons there need to be at least a further 90,000 to meet the current demand. The only upside of this is that when you do eventually get your own green space, it will probably have been well-tended and this will make it much easier to take on.

What will you get?
Many places now offer smaller plots than a standard plot, which is roughly 250 sq m and expect to pay about £30-50 a year for a full plot (although prices do fluctuate widely depending on the region). If the list is long at your local authority, then hunt out sites provided by private landlords – your local allotment society can help with these details. Alternatively seek out some vacant land in your neighbourhood that would make a good allotment site and get in touch with the owner so see if they’re amenable to the idea of a revamp.

“I’ve always loved gardening and the only thing I wished for was that our garden had been a bit bigger,” explains allotment-convert Alison Dewar, pictured. So four years ago when she relocated to Great Waltham in Essex with her husband, Craig, she jumped at the chance of having her own plot.

“I was an allotment novice, although as a child I often used to join my Dad on his plot, where he grew plenty of veg for the table.”

Unusually Alison, 57, did not have long to wait before she was able to choose a £12-a-year plot (near the water tanks) which had been well-maintained, which meant it was easier to get to grips with.

She says that her family's enjoyment of home-grown vegetables and salad did not come down the generations – instead she inherited a love of flowers: “I have at least a dozen rose bushes, a few chrysanths, and this year grew a forest of cosmos and cornflowers with sunflowers for good measure and some gorgeous sweet peas.

"I also have a nod towards ‘healthy eating’, with a mixture of traditional veg like runner beans, potatoes and a few giant squash, alongside my passion for colour."

Alison says that the allotment is also a great way to unwind: “I started tending the plot myself, but gradually Craig has also got the gardening bug and we both find it a great outlet for de-stressing at weekends (and occasionally after work) and even better, it is something we can do together. Running my own business (straightpr.co.uk) as a journalist and public relations professional, gives me additional flexibility to go down there if I need a break.”



Weeds and bad weather can make having an allotment challenging – but there are rewards: “It is hard work, but there’s nothing better than popping down and coming back with some beans (for my Mum of course) and a trug full of beautiful roses which I love to show off in a tortoiseshell glass rose bowl that belonged to my Nan. I think of it as keeping the family memories alive.”

The National Allotment Society has a handy list of vacant plots at https://www.nsalg.org.uk/about-us/vacancies/ and a useful downloadable leaflet on all things allotment. (https://www.nsalg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/A5_Obtaining_an_allotment_LR.pdf)