Alex studied for her qualifications to improve her knowledge and get more out of her allotment
The thing I enjoyed most about studying was constantly learning something new that I could put into practice at my allotment.
Horticulture gives me a connection to nature. I absolutely love being outside and watching a seed grow from nothing to something. There is something about being in dirt and growing living plants that helps me feel alive inside.
I call my allotment my haven. I have a very tiny garden, so so I’ve made the allotment feel more like a proper garden where I can switch-off for many hours and forget about the pressures in my life. When I’m there, all I can hear is the bird song and the trickle of water from my wildlife pond. I also love the sense of achievement I get. There is honestly no better feeling than coming home with a basket full of fruit and veg that I've grown myself.
After a year-and-a-half of growing things at my allotment, I realised I wanted to formalise my knowledge, and potentially learn new ways of doing things by getting an RHS qualification. The knowledge I’ve learnt both in the theory and practical courses have been absolutely invaluable.
Properly identifying the soil at my allotment has been great, as I’ve truly understood the importance of incorporating organic matter into my once heavy clay soil. I also found learning about various growing media options for different plant types really interesting. I never used perlite and vermiculite before I began my RHS education and now I understand how to use both to get the most out of a plant. I am now completely peat free in my compost choices.
The most useful thing I have learnt on the course was how to extend and improve my growing season through various methods. Techniques such as crop rotations and successional sowing, mean I now have a better understanding of what I can immediately put into the soil once I’ve lifted one vegetable crop.
Protection from frosts, mulching for weed control, netting, cold frames and cloches have all enabled me to have a longer growing season and more home-grown veg.
One thing that really surprised me was how rubbish I have been previously at making my own compost. Turns out, there’s so much more to it than just chucking my garden waste in in the heap! Being taught in person about the different materials I can use and how the brown/green ratios vary throughout the year has enabled me to get on top of my composting, and start some no-dig beds at my allotment. This is something I’m quite proud of, as I have an almost closed loop system of green waste now.
During my studies I had a wonderful cohort all from completely mixed backgrounds – some were there to learn new techniques, some were looking for a new career path, some had retired and found themselves with time to learn more about their gardens and some were there due to a passion for horticulture.
Being able to learn an array of horticultural knowledge surrounded by such fantastic and inquisitive people made all the difference to my learning experience. One thing we all had in common was a mutual respect for the natural world. I kept a little notebook of top tips for my allotment that I gained not only from the lecturers and the knowledge they were teaching us, but also from my horticultural classmates.
I am a strong believer in gardening for mental health. This is a passionate subject for me, as someone who has struggled with mental health and anxiety for many years. Having an allotment and growing your own has an extensive range of benefits. For me, it’s about having somewhere to switch off from the world and channel all of my energy into creating better things, in this instance, my own fruit and vegetables.
The allotment gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to check my seeds and water my produce. The healing power of nature should never be underestimated. Although gardening and allotments can relieve stress and can be very relaxing, they also provide me with a real sense of achievement and have definitely boosted my confidence.
Alex McKie has an allotment in Portishead, near Bristol.