If you have the space, gardening at home can be rewarding, but can also be very solitary. As National Allotment Week approaches, Heather Barron investigates the joys of tending a small plot in a communal area with like-minded company

FOR those who want to feel the soil running through their fingers as they dig up their home-grown vegetables, or pick fruit from bushes lovingly planted and nurtured, an allotment is a great place to begin.

Gardeners are generous with their time, advice and produce, and working alongside others will improve your knowledge, help to make new friends, and you might be going home with fruit and veg surplus to someone else’s requirements.

August 14 – 20 is National Allotments Week in the UK, and this year the theme is “Growing the Movement” - a celebration of all the hard work put in by voluntary association management committees, plot-holder volunteers and councils, who manage, create, develop and safeguard sites.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The National Allotment Society (or National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd - NSALG) is the leading national organisation upholding the interests and rights of the allotment community across the UK. They work with government at national and local levels, other organisations, and landlords, to provide, promote and preserve allotments for all. The NSALG offers support, guidance and advice to members and those with an interest in allotment gardening.

In 2011, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who is an avid gardener himself and advocate of green issues, became the Patron of the Society, as he is also keen to promote and protect the UK's enduring traditions.

Allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence pointing back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was traditionally measured in rods (perches or poles). Ten poles is the accepted size of an allotment, the equivalent of 250 square metres, or about the size of a doubles tennis court.

The system we recognise today has its roots in the Nineteenth Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed thanks to the rapid industrialisation of the country and the lack of a welfare state.

In 1908 the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, placing a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments, according to demand. However, it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that land was made available to all, primarily as a way of assisting returning service men (Land Settlement Facilities Act 1919) instead of just the labouring poor.

Di Appleyard is marketing co-ordinator for the Society and extolls the virtues of tending an allotment.

“Aside from growing your own food, there is the benefit of social interaction and engagement,” she says. “Allotment holders are getting out in the fresh air, getting exercise and meeting people. There’s no prescriptive way of working – everyone works to their own pace and ability.

“Each site will be slightly different, and will cater for different needs. Plot sizes will vary, so if you want just a small area, you can have half a plot. There might also be raised beds for disabled gardeners.

“Part of the beauty is that you can choose what you grow. So, if you are from abroad and can’t get certain things in the shops here, you can grow it! Or if you grow too much of something, you can do swops with other gardeners. Some gardeners pre-arrange amongst themselves what they will each grow, to share.”

It’s not only produce that gets shared – it’s skills and advice too. New plot holders need not be nervous about asking for help - the allotment community is friendly and inclusive, with individuals always ready to share the benefits of their experience.

Local councils usually have a list of available allotments that can be rented, which may be either direct let - managed by the council - or devolved management plots which are run by an association.

In some cases, this land will also be used for the growing of ornamental plants, and the keeping of hens, rabbits and bees.

There are different events being held around the regions during National Allotment Week, and you can find out details about what is happening near you, plus lots more information about allotments, by checking the website

  • How proud are you of your allotment? We'd love to see your pictures. Please send them to peter.barron@nne.co.uk. The best will be published in a special National Allotment Week gallery in Country Life and the winner will receive A "Meal for Two" Voucher for Sam Turner's Cafe.