Whether you’re just starting out on a grow your own adventure or are a hardened veteran, the allotment zone will inspire you
Allotments are fashionable. Our collective desire to connect with plant-life and grow our own produce or cut flowers is growing ever stronger, a desire that has been amplified during the pandemic. It has also served to highlight the importance of community; and allotments and community go soil-stained-hand in soil-stained-hand.
RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival is celebrating this renewed interest in the humble allotment with a huge increase in space showcasing more exhibitors than ever before, dedicated to this fantastic pastime.
There is something for everyone; the gnarly allotmenteer who wants to get more out of their patch; the learner who can’t understand why they constantly lose their peas; and those with a passing interest in growing their own who might not yet have started on this fabulous journey.
Expect expert soil advice for those who know their loams from their peat-free growing media, and a plethora of water specialists are showing how to better preserve that precious resource, including our dedicated water scientist, Janet Manning.
And at the heart of all this, RHS Hampton Court show regulars The Community Brain have a large feature, enticing, encouraging and entertaining all potential and existing allotmenteers.
Their installation is called Crop Up; eight huge wheelie bins, the type normally found outside blocks of flats, filled to the brim with bee-friendly flowers and allotment staples.
“According to a recent report there are roughly 220 people for every allotment plot in the UK,” said Robin Hutchinson, from the Community Brain.
“The allotment with the longest waiting list is the one closest to Hampton Court Palace. We need to recognise not everyone has access to a plot.”
Mr Hutchinson, who is also appearing on the Festival Stage, said now could be the time to reconsider pressures on land use – allotments over the years have often fallen victim to the need for housing. Indeed, a recent study found that more than half of all allotment space has been lost since 1965, he added.
Grow your own
The need for new homes can’t be ignored, particularly in densely populated urban areas such as London. On top of those pressures on land use, many people’s personal circumstances may make the commitment to a full allotment a bit daunting or even impossible.
That’s where the Community Brain’s ingenious idea of Crop Ups comes in – patches of unused land where temporary beds can be thrown up.
They have already started work on one-such spot, a sliver of land running along a railway on the edge of a new housing estate. It will eventually be built on, but until the development is finished the Community Brain will put it to good use.
Longer term, they hope to help some communities find a scrap of land, come together and work the patch for the benefit of everyone. From a disused front garden to a giant wheelie bin, everything is possible when we work together.
“People who are time poor, people who are financially stuck – an allotment might be a big, big commitment. We hope to find a middle ground,” he said.
Georgia Neesham, also from the Community Brain, added: “The reason we love allotments is the sharing; sharing skills, sharing produce, sharing friendships.”
That sense of community is reflected in the bins. Each one designed, grown and planted by a different community group;
• Pick A Flavour
• Growing Festival
• The Farm of Futures
• Citizen Zoo
• St John's Primary & Nursery School OWL Project
• Kingston Environment Centre
• Earthly Biochar
• Idverde Apprenticeship Scheme
The Community Brain’s celebration doesn’t stop there with a small pavilion providing a stage for musicians taking part in this year’s International Youth Arts Festival, a celebration of youngsters making music in Kingston, south London.
There are 13 other communities and allotmenteers hoping to inspire and educate through their plots of raised beds. as well as a pond dipping and wildlife area, advice on coping with flood and drought, edible living wall, companion planting and inspiration boards.
Alton Local Food Initiative
ALFI encourages people in Hampshire to get involved in growing, sourcing and eating local, seasonal and responsibly sourced food. They launched in 2010 following a greening campaign with Alton Town Council; plots and planters around the town were given over for the group and South West Trains provided a disused plot of land by the railway station. The initiative has since grown to incorporate more plots and raised beds.
Blossoms of Hope
On four plots in Kent, this group uses horticulture as therapy to support adults with mild to moderate mental health issues. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers of people struggling with their mental health has risen. Adults who work in the garden have improved confidence, better coping skills and a sense of purpose. Their design aims to raise awareness of the help that is available and how nature is a healer and expresses both the lighter and darker sides of mental health through plant colour choices.
The ReGeneration Allotment
This allotment will provide a snapshot of the work Cultivate London has undertaken in transforming the South Acton Estate over the past five years by growing plants. It will showcase the diversity of the project and tell the story of the development.
Feltham Firsts and Greats
The garden celebrates Feltham’s horticultural heritage and connections to famous people and places. It combines flowers, fruit and vegetables, many of which have a connection to the town, not far from Hampton Court Palace. It also includes a small pond, and wind pump that doubles up as a tripod for peas to grow up. The design is a collaboration between three community groups; Friends of Bridge House Pond, Friends of Feltham Green and Feltham in Bloom.
Growing More Than A Plot
While allotments may be viewed as utilitarian sites to produce fruit and vegetables, very often they provide much more. This design, from the Friends of Ascott Allotments, the second largest allotment site in London, showcases the diversity of ways allotments build community, encourage biodiversity, offer refuge (for humans and wildlife) and create beauty, all the while producing an abundance of edible treasures.
This allotment aims to symbolise life’s vibrancy while acknowledging its moving and fleeting nature. Designer Zoe Claymore is a local amateur gardener who only took up the art in the last few years and this is her first time at RHS Hampton Court. Her design is created in response to the pandemic, celebrating new life while remembering the old.
Royal Paddocks Allotments
To celebrate the centenary of these allotments in Hampton Wick, this plot has been designed to reflect their history and represents the people who garden there and their gardening philosophies. Key elements include the eclectic mix of growing styles drawn from the different cultural backgrounds; learning and inspiration; the social and community aspects of growing and sharing food; and the wellbeing benefits of working on the land.
A Sanctuary from Covid
This allotment celebrates the gratitude members of the Sandridge Road Allotments in St Albans feel for the safe space to garden during the pandemic. For many allotmenteers, their plots have been a place of refuge while also being their creative and productive spaces. Children have been schooled on site, learning through play, while for others the garden has provided an escape from the day-to-day. Many of the group say the connection with nature has been a great solace during lockdown.
Afro-European Kitchen Garden
In July 2019, the Spurgeon Secret Garden project refurbished and reopened a woodland garden, derelict for more than 20 years at the centre of the estate in Stockwell, enriching the lives of many in the area. There is a large diversity in horticultural and culinary traditions from across Africa and Europe, particularly Portugal, and the UK and this is reflected in the design of the Afro-European Kitchen Garden. It incorporates growers’ experiments in cultivating plants from the warmer climates and is led by their cuisines. Recipes and remedies will be linked to the beds.
Get up and Grow
Social media influencer and newly published author Lucy Hutchings has teamed up with Perrywood garden centres to encourage as many people as possible to grow. Lucy, known as @shegrowsveg, designed this plot to demonstrate just how much food can be grown in a small space and features a number of vertical growing projects. All the planting is edible and includes vegetables, fruit, edible flowers and ornamental edibles. There is a tropical hint to the planting and colour is key with vibrant flowers and foliage interspersed with more traditional veg. Lucy will also be giving talks in the potting shed and cooking demos with chef Mike Keen inspired by her own harvests.
A Millennial’s Physic Garden
Emily and Phoebe, collectively The Queens of Spades, met through horticulture after their careers in the arts were abruptly ended by the pandemic. Their contemporary design is a version of an apothecary or physic garden and is a space for growing herbs for tea and home remedies, and plants for natural, eco-friendly crafts. They have taken inspiration from traditional physic gardens but with a more contemporary layout, and a sustainable consideration for each plant’s preferred growing conditions. The space will be multi-functional, useful and beautiful, to be enjoyed passively and used practically while providing a haven for wildlife.
This wellbeing garden, designed by new designer Jessica Spreadbury-Kaewchan, is inspired by author HP Lovecraft’s short stories about ‘Dreamlands’ – a vast alternate dimension entered via dreams. She has designed a space in which to lose yourself, dream and escape life’s worries and stresses, screen time and home schooling. It is a place of beauty and abundance with hints of a wild secret. The design includes flowers for cutting and edibles, a contemporary colour palette.
Fulham Palace Allotments
Fulham Allotments have been going strong since 1916 and is now a 14-acre site with more than 400 plots. The allotment garden at the festival is a means to introduce current allotmenteers to each other and come together with neighbours from distant areas of the site to grow the produce that will feature at RHS Hampton. The festival allotment is a deconstructed site populated with old doors, windows and furniture – items that would have been familiar to the early allotmenteers as they repurposed everyday items. The plot is colourful, functional, friendly and representative of the community.