Share your outdoor sanctuary with the National Garden Scheme – you won’t regret it!
Elaine Crick from the Ashbourne Road and District Allotments in Derby explains how their plot holders love of their allotments led to sharing their outdoor sanctuary with the National Garden Scheme.
Allotments! The very word conjures up pictures from childhood books such as Beatrix Potter’s Mr McGregor’s garden.
Row upon row of neatly tended vegetables, pristine and erect and not a net nor slug in site. Muddy, rugged paths and wellies and men in flat caps. Dilapidated sheds containing rusty old tools and little else, but a few sacks of potatoes and…cut! Here’s the reality; todays allotment site may contain a few traditional plots, but certainly they are the minority now within the 166 plots at The Ashbourne Road and District Allotments in Derby city centre.
The 21st century allotments in Derby have beautifully painted sheds standing proud, dominating the plots like beach huts at the seaside. Close by (and dotted about) are grand poly tunnels crammed with plants and seedlings six weeks ahead of their name sakes outside in the raised beds.
Fruit trees are in full blossom and dominate the skyline, under-planted with remnants of spring flowers which can be seen along the well mown paths in each direction of the site.
New growth is about to burst through the fine tilthed soil on plots which themselves have been chopped in size to make way for the creation of the more modern, manageable, enjoyable family plot.
Opening with the National Garden Scheme
This is a picture the majority of our plot holders have been able to relish every day through the lockdowns in the last 18 months. This enjoyment was so universal among plot holders that they were enthusiastic in agreeing to open the allotment gates and work with the National Garden Scheme to allow visitors into the nine-acre oasis to share gardening secrets of success with anyone who was willing to listen long enough!
The story of how it all came about is simple: having telephoned the National Garden Scheme county organiser – the appropriately named Peter Gardner – last July he and his wife agreed to visit the site. A few hours later and a tour of the plots, he thrust the beautiful black and yellow coloured folder into my arms, mentioned some minor points of improvements for the day and handed over his business card.
That was that! The committee agreed to work on two event days with the National Garden Scheme in the following summer with a little group of volunteers set up to manage the planning.
The biggest challenge was: “What was the message we wanted visitors to take away from their experience with us on the open days?” That question formed the foundation of our work.
We decided we wanted people to enjoy what we had for the last 18 months, to appreciate the views within the site and be able to share experiences with other like-minded people.
As with most allotments, ours have been very fortunate to have been able to continue plotting regardless of what has happened in the wider community. Members have retained relationships (over the fence) and enjoyed a tranquil additional place to visit in difficult times for many.
This was a time to give back – not that it was ‘owed’ but a time to share the sanctuary that plots had provided in the last year.
Preparing for our first opening
Communication from the National Garden Scheme was always relevant. Restrictions through COVID meant that pre-booking was ‘essential’. This meant that anyone wanting to visit had to book online beforehand unless they were a member of our Association.
By providing this electronic system it made it all the easier to know how many visitors there would be on site at any one time and to be able to cater for the numbers accordingly. For the first time, visitors were going to pay to go through the gates but all for a good cause – the wonderful nursing and health charities supported by the National Garden Scheme.
In addition, a pack of ready-made, dated posters, stickers, booklets and road signs were delivered in good time together with other bits and pieces for the day.
Catering was easy to manage. Using disposable cups, hot and cold drinks were provided as required and the decision made that they would be free of charge. Many of the lovely plot holders created and donated home-made cakes for the event and on the morning of the open day, all popped onto site delivering their produce to the welcoming arms of additional volunteers. Again, the cakes were free of charge though donation buckets were strategically placed about the site in case anyone might feel the need to give to the cause.
The big day!
On the day of the first event visitors moved towards the entrance gate, they were handed a National Garden Scheme booklet together with a map and dossier of the allotments. As they veered through the entrance, visitors were confronted with the ‘The Cart Meal’. A white wooden cart laden with freshly picked rhubarb that was repeatedly replenished throughout the day. Jars of home-made jellies and jams and bundles of lavender picked from the plots in 2020 were also donated and again, all free of charge, though another donation bucket was placed nearby.
Plants (grown from seed) were of a perfect size making them very popular for the visitors. The Growing Academy poly tunnel was filled with tomato, cucumber and the usual fruit and vegetable plants, together with perennial flowers, herbs and old tools donated by friends of the site and plot holders. Numbers were ‘managed’ through the doors and folk were politely ushered from one end of the tunnel to the other (in a very orderly manner) which enabled people to peruse and choose a route in comfort and tranquillity.
In addition, many plot holders opened gates to their plots and admiring visitors were able to ramble round each, asking questions whilst observing COVID guidance.
Families with children ventured onto the ‘Centenary Plot’ created four years previously where they could have the ‘proper’ allotment experience. By digging for gold with trowels and riddling the soil for nuggets (sprayed stones) and pennies as unusually, the site was a place with nothing for children to buy, but instead, a place to absorb the real experience of allotmenting.
And of the benefits? More people in the community had a day out on the site that they may never otherwise have had the pleasure of doing. The donation buckets are still being sorted and contents counted and an overwhelming feeling of happiness from truly working in partnership with an organisation who supports so many other charities which have not been able to function and in some cases, support families in the community in this last 12 months.
The National Garden Scheme is an organisation that seems to be packed with people who return calls, reply to emails and who are really helpful with advice. A pleasure to work with.
So, if your site is thinking about opening its gates – just do it! You will not regret it and if you want to show off your beautiful site assets, need to build up your numbers on your own volunteer list or waiting list – then this is the time to do it.
I suppose one thing I have forgotten to mention is that our first day did coincide with ‘World Naked Gardening Day’! Enough said!
Discover more about the allotments opening for the National Garden Scheme here