Over the fence: allotment rules
Are rules relevant to the allotments of today? Does it matter what allotments are used for as long as they’re well cared for and tidy?
IRules are there
for a reason and it
makes life easier if we stick to them
t’s widely accepted that allotments are primarily for growing fruit and veg for personal consumption, and should be non-profit. Having rules on allotments is a result of problems experienced by previous tenants and they’re made to make our lives easier by preventing problems before they arise. Rules are normally set by the landlord, who could be a private landlord like a farmer, the local parish council or a committee − and the rules for each site will differ. Some plots have a small seating area to relax in, which is fine, but turfing the whole plot, adding swings, a trampoline and a BBQ, then using it as a play area and garden
just isn’t in the spirit of
what an allotment is for! Another contentious
issue is animals on allotments: having a
couple of chickens that are clean and well looked after can help keep problem pests at bay and be a great source of eggs, but roaming, filthy foul can devastate crops and attract problem vermin. Other rules are more of a common courtesy to your fellow tenants or nearby neighbours, such as keeping your plot well tended. There is nothing worse than having a neighbour who only tends their plot twice a year, then it turns into a weed pit, spreading seed over adjacent plots and making more work for anyone nearby. Bonfires after 7pm is a rule I try to stick to. Yes, we need to get rid of our trimmings and dead plants, but there may be nearby neighbours who have their washing drying and the last thing they want is for you to throw a heap of green waste on the fire that will produce tonnes of excessive and smelly smoke. Allotment rules are there for a reason, and it makes everyone’s life so much easier if we stick to them and have consideration for those we share our growing space with.
AYoung families are the new blood
that is keeping
llotments – wonderful as they are and as much as I love them – were historically an instrument of control of the working man, and many of their rules arise from this. But today’s plots are just as likely to be worked on by young families, and rules need to reflect this change in use. The oldest allotments were created just after the Enclosures during the 17th century, when the practice developed of obtaining private plots of land via parliamentary Act and the rural poor lost access to the common land upon which they depended. The next swathe arose in the Industrial Revolution, when cities were crammed with people living in poor conditions. In both cases, working men’s health was suffering, and allotments supplemented their diets and got them out of pubs and into fresh air. The rule that people shouldn’t earn money from their plots comes from this: workers should be sober and content, but also available to work. If those men monetised their plots, they might have removed themselves from the labour pool. As this is no longer an issue, this historic rule is one that I would do away with in an instant − and there is room for leeway with the rest, too. The days when tending an allotment was solely a working man’s game have long gone – today it’s for women and
children, as well as old boys. Young families are the new
blood that is keeping allotments
going, and so some provision has
to be made. Why not a swing if it keeps the kids out of mischief? Why not flowers to pick and a little lawn to play on? Above all, allotments need to be used, and to be seen to be used – unworked plots and neglect allow councils to open the way for development. So allotment societies should recognise the needs of those actually digging them today over the needs of some 18th-century industrialist.
Lia Leendertz is a garden and food writer, whose latest book is The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 ( Mitchell Beazley, £10)@ lialeendertz
Rob Smith is the winner of the BBC Big Allotment Challenge in 2015. He’s also an Ambassador and Seed Guardian for Garden Organics’ Heritage Seed Library @RobsAllotment