I visited an allotment garden in London a few weeks ago. We have friends who live in central London suburb, not right in town, but only a few tube stops out from the centre. We stayed with them for a few days when we arrived, and to my delight, to help our recovery from jet lag, they took us to visit their allotment near Hampstead Heath.
Allotment gardening seems strange to those of us reared in the half-gallon quarter acre pavlova paradise, where each household grew its own vegies. But they are common in the UK, where backyards are tiny, or non-existent. Councils supply some land, usually fenced and gated, and people in the area can apply for an allotment within that area. In some areas there are long waiting lists for allotments: our friends were on the list for about 10 years. They have a half allotment, for which they pay about £50 a year. And on that allotment, they can grow whatever they like. Our friends grow fruit and vegetables: raspberries and artichokes and beans and strawberries and leeks and onions and whatever else takes their fancy.
There seems to be about 80 to 100 allotments in the area where our friends have their garden. Some are very plain – just some grass and fruit trees – while others are extensively landscaped and planted with anything and everything. It’s fascinating wandering among the allotments, and seeing what people are growing. There is a strong culture of sharing cuttings and seeds and advice, and of active neighbourliness.
It seems that the politics can be intense. There are … inconsistencies when it comes to who may, and who may not, have a shed on their allotment. Our friends may not, but they have stored their tools in their garden seat, which is not a shed. One person seems to be running a small wood carving business from his site, but he is the Chairman of the committee, so no one has raised an objection. Yet. People with expansionist ambitions keep a close eye on their neighbours’ plots, anxious to report the least appearance of a weed, so that their neighbour can be declared incompetent and the plot annexed.
There are many community gardens in New Zealand, but I do not know of any allotment gardens. The concept seems superb to me: find a good patch of land, and encourage gardeners to take up individual plots there, in a shared undertaking. It could be a very effective way for people to grow their own food, in community, and to pass on knowledge and skills.
I am busy planning my new garden. I have worked out which areas I can set aside for my daughters, and in just a few weeks, I hope to start spring gardening with them. Growing food for us to eat, planting flowers to enjoy, passing on the knowledge and joy in gardening that was given to me by my mother. A green and growing love, spreading from one generation to the next, and the next.