Late winter going into early spring is one of the best times of the year to choose your allotment plot. Annual plants have died back and deciduous trees bare their naked form, giving you an overall blank canvas view of the plot’s potential future as a productive edible garden. You might even glance a few signs of existing spring, like the striking green flash of bulbs poking up through the soil, the swelling buds of an apple tree or some primula in bloom.
I was lucky to only wait six months for my plot, but you could have your name on the waiting list for many months, or maybe even years! One day though, you’ll reach the top of that list and receive an invitation to go on an allotment tour, to choose yourself a garden. I remember the day so vividly! I was bursting with eagerness to think that I could return home with a set of keys to my very own piece of land.Going back three and a half years to that day, I remember it being mid September just after my birthday, when I saw about six different plots with a small group of people. I pinned all my hopes on a cosy, over grown and very green plot. I fell in love with it’s quirky character and the ivy ‘shed’ and hedges that concealed what I wanted to be, my own Secret Garden. I wouldn’t change my plot for anything and I have no regrets in my decision to get 152a at St.Ann’s Allotments, but how DO you decide on what is a ‘good plot’ and is there such a thing as a ‘bad plot’? I’ve listed a few tips and things to consider.
In the first few year of getting your allotment you will be carting an awful lot of stuff to and from your allotment and not just seed trays and tools. You might buy a shed, concrete slabs, you will most definitely have a lot of junk to remove and then theres all the bags of compost and manure too. Taking on an allotment garden comes with a lot of heavy lifting so easy access is very important!
- Carpark – is it far away?
- Pathways – is you plot easy to get to? Are the pathways muddy or on a steep incline?
- How long does it take you to get to your plot?
If it’s a long time you might be put off going all together!
- Taps – if you site has them, you might want one close to your gate. Otherwise you could be relying on rainwater during hot summers which isn’t ideal.
Existing Plants, Trees & Structures
If you find a plot with established fruit trees already growing on it then you might have struck gold! Proving they are in good condition, established fruit trees are heavy cropping and require little effort to maintain. Just remember that fruit trees will shade parts of your garden and require a lot of water from the ground which will prevent you from planting and growing certain things directly below it.
Sadly, allotment breaking and thefts are quite common, especially in city and suburban areas. It isn’t something you should fear, but if you plan on storing expensive garden machinery or electric tools in an unlocked shed, that’s close to the entrance of the site, then you might re-consider where you’re plot is located.
Does it have big trees or hedges? They could restrict light to your plot, and take away a lot of water from the ground. They will also required regular pruning to prevent them from becoming overgrown. My plot has a lot of trees and although they don’t restrict too much light, I do have to cut back the vigorous ivy hedges each year and either burn it or take to a recycling centre. On the plus side, they provide habitats for nesting birds, natural walkways for hedgehogs and I also have a lot of privacy!
Plots available in a range of sizes and most of them tend to be overgrown, so if you find one in a good condition then you’re lucky! I took on my small plot knowing it would be a huge challenge to makeover by myself but I was prepared to take it on. Sadly, it is all too common for new allotment holders to give up on their plots because they don’t have the time or energy to overhall a big, overgrown plot. I did mine bit-by-bit and didn’t let it defeat me! So think about what you can realistically manage.
If you get the chance, take a look at the position of the sun and see which direction your plot faces. This will help you get an idea of how the light and shadows fall on your plot and will dictate where and what you can plant in certain areas. A plot that faces N-S will get the maximum hours of daylight on the plot.
Soil quality can vary drastically between plots. Now I’m not saying your should whip out a pH measuring kit during your tour, but take a look at the colour and consistency of the soil. Generally speaking the darker and more crumbly, the better quality it is! This hints that the soil has been heavily manured and looked after for many years. If you see huge puddles or rivers of rainwater and mud at the end of the plot, it might not have very good drainage, which will cause you issues. Also bare in mind the flatness of the plot. Mine in on a slight downward slope but you might prefer, like many allotment gardeners, to have a completely levelled plot.
With all that said, you might just get a gut feeling and know that ‘THIS IS THE ONE’ (like I did), so don’t take my advice too seriously. Enjoy the tour, take in as much as you can and don’t feel rushed to make a decision if you aren’t completely happy.
If you’re reading this thinking you want to get an allotment of your own, just get your name on the waiting list! You can always turn it down if you aren’t ready when the time comes. Waiting lists are only going to get longer in years to come as we grow tired of pre-washed, pre-chopped carrots, perfectly shaped parsnips and the ridiculous amount of plastic packaging that comes with it. As a nation, I think we’re slowly become more aware of the food we’re eating, the processes involved in making it, and are more interested in growing our own foods to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
If you have an allotment already, I would love to know what made you decide on choosing your plot?!