There is no doubting the perks of having space to harvest soil fresh veggies or to let your wild roots flourish. But aside from abundant yields of potatoes, carrots, peas or rainbow chard, what lures people from their busy lives and into the allotment?
A few weeks ago the National Allotments Week championed the great tradition of homegrown seasonal produce via its “shared harvest” theme. It brought to mind the joys of a green space sanctuary. The celebration saw fantastically fresh fare parcelled out by neighbours and communities. But it was also a chance for avid gardeners and health experts to ponder an often overlooked benefit of the precious plot: mental health and escapism.
Across the UK, a number of organisations are working on mental health promotion through gardening and community allotments. In Basingstoke, the Inspero project nurtures healthy living through its free garden classes. The charity offers “green therapy” to individuals suffering from depression or recovering from a serious illness.
Such projects are planted in the trenches of academia, where researchers have discovered that tending to a plot of land has health advantages beyond the physical.
Dr Carly Wood, of the University of Westminster, was part of a team that compared mental wellbeing of allotment gardeners to non-gardeners for the Journal of Public Health. The study found evidence that “one single session of allotment gardening can improve both self-esteem and mood” irrespective of how long participants spend on the allotment.
Dr Wood believes the findings show that allotment gardening may play a key role as a preventive health measure.
PR coach Chenoa Parr (pictured above) and her family have been reaping the benefits of their own allotment for three years. Ms Parr, who is originally from the USA, recalls how the lure of the land was always part of life growing up. However, it wasn’t until she began growing vegetables with her daughter in the UK that she truly came to appreciate the family tradition. Chenoa’s parents now own a holiday bolthole at a caravan park in Dyserth, north Wales. And while the beautiful Welsh countryside was a pull factor, what certainly sealed the deal was the presence of an out of sight communal plot.
“There are just so many things to love about an allotment. There is a sense of community. We take turns watering each other’s garden, sharing tools and having a chat when we’re all up there. There’s also a bit of friendly competition about who is going to have the best harvest.”
Ms Parr is also an advocate for the health benefits, after experiencing first hand how pottering out in the open can be a stress reliever.
“When we got the allotment, I was going through a bit of a tough time at work. Gardening became my way of relieving stress. It was my escape and a way of just letting my mind wander. It really helped me through a tough time,” she explains.
“There’s nothing better than heading over to the allotment on a nice sunny day. It’s so peaceful. We’re surrounded by the Welsh mountains on one side and blackberry bushes on the other. The added bonus is that at the end of a day in the garden, I bring back homegrown veggies for tea."
High above Regent Street, one of London’s premiere shopping thoroughfares, there is a garden unexpectedly teeming with insects and plantlife. A part of the Little Portland Street Cookery School, the allotment boasts views across the West End. The rooftop hideaway was created three years ago when the school decided to grow their own ingredients.
“We are growing lots of herbs, including thyme, basil, oregano, lovage, sage, rosemary, mint, coriander, chives and dill, as well as tomatoes and variations of salad leaves,” explains resident gardener Edwin Ballogan. “During the winter, we plant vegetables like onions, garlic and broad beans. The bees on the roof ensure everything is well-pollinated.”
Ballogan also finds the hideaway can be a sweet escape from the city.
“Even though our allotment is in the middle of Regent Street, it’s quite peaceful up the top,” he says.
“It gives me a chance to relax and get my hands dirty. After a couple of hours, I feel fresh again and like I’ve just started my shift. I love gardening so I get great satisfaction from watching the allotment thrive.”