Allotments really produce the goods

The allotments at Berwick.
The allotments at Berwick.

One of my favourite things when Northumbria in Bloom judging has been to walk around allotment association sites and note how many of the sheds and greenhouses have been home-made from recycled timber and glass.

Very few top-of-the-range buildings are seen but don’t be fooled, these structures are solid, loved, buzz with activity, and most importantly grow great produce.

Starting from scratch.

Starting from scratch.

From Tees to Wear, Tyne to Tweed, the welcome is fulsome, proud owners eager to discuss how important their plots are to them and the joy they bring. It’s no coincidence that I have not as yet visited an allotment site without a waiting list. The national figure is estimated to be 100,000.

If it came to declaring a favourite, thinking from the heart rather than head or judge’s check list, one site in Berwick would win hands down

Best viewed in midsummer when the crops are in full growth, it is approached by a walk around the town’s Elizabethan walls. When the Lion House and painting of it come into view, you are standing on the LS Lowry Trail.

Look over the low wall on your left into a valley of pure joy for gardeners. Behold the patchwork of sheds and growing houses, vegetable crops and flowers.

One of the best organised allotment association sites I’ve seen in recent years was at Washington.

The entrance was weed-free, attractive and welcoming. A flagged pathway ran the whole length, the occasional bench and container planting encouraging a brief rest and opportunity for gardeners to converse in comfort. The plots reached a high standard of maintenance, with a diversity of well-grown crops.

Such places overflow with experienced growers, the tangible results of their efforts on display. It is in environments such as this you pick up not only hints relating to cultivation but also a variety of money-saving opportunities.

There are several routes to growing a successful crop and they will happily explain the one they took.

Some choose traditional pots for tomatoes which can involve a substantial outlay. Others modify containers that might otherwise have been thrown out. And when the questions begin to flow, what a revelation. When did you last buy a pack of labels? An insecticide? An activator for your compost heap? A proprietary plant food? The response is occasionally a strange look which reads; they cost money, I can make my own for nothing, and the insecticide is safer to use.

In visiting such places a store of memories is built, and this offers later options. Reference the timber propagating frame I admired in an allotment greenhouse some years ago.

The gardening acquaintance revealed that he’d constructed it and ran me through the process.

Years later my beloved red cedar Alton was wrecked in gale force winds and a replacement was set up, but the cost of replacing the propagator was excessive. Solution: Buy the timber, soil-warming cable and thermostat, and build it yourself. A local electrician connected and checked the electrics, and we were up and running with a sense of achievement.