“We’ve had a big task on our hands over the last 12 months,” said Rachel Mora‑Bannon, reflecting on the first year of a deceptively modest addition to the National Trust’s portfolio – a plot at Hagg Lane Allotments in Crosspool.
“After we took the plot on we had to clear the site, which was a massive job and took a lot of time. The weeds were up to head height and we filled four skips. We had to remove stuff by hand, strim it down, and build terraces to stabilise everything because we’re on a hillside.
“Just cutting back a single hedge took nine hours.”
But after the trust teamed up with a band of loyal volunteers, all the hard work has paid off and the site is ‘transformed’ with thriving plots and a special forest garden area.
“This is our second season of growing things, really,” said Rachel, the trust’s volunteer programmes manager. “We have a properly productive plot now. The project is going really well.”
Last year the organisation signed a lease with the city council for the Hagg Lane plot, in partnership with the Sheffield Organic Food Initiative.
The aim was to create a shared community food garden that also educates young people about cultivating fruit and vegetables, as well as nature and the environment generally.
Now the allotment has an established group of around 10 local helpers, and a strong partnership has developed with nearby Lydgate Infant School.
The kitchen garden on the Longshaw Estate, run by the trust’s Peak District branch, provided the seed of inspiration, Rachel said.
“When this plot came up we thought it was a really good way of taking some of our knowledge in gardening into the local community to spread the message about healthy eating and growing your own, rather than the community coming out to us.
“The allotment looks out over the Rivelin Valley and you can see out to the Peak District, so it made sense to us.”
An open day was held at the allotment last week, allowing visitors to see the gardeners in action pruning fruit trees – which ensures a high yield come autumn – and trying new varieties of produce, to determine which types suit the soil.
Gooseberries, strawberries, apples, pears and plums are all being grown, as well as rhubarb and comfrey, a herb used as fertiliser.
Fruit bushes bearing goji and tayberries are being experimented with, while the schoolchildren have been starting with the essentials – potatoes and onions, mainly, which will be taken to Lydgate Infants’ kitchen to be used in meals next month.
A polytunnel is being installed and a new shed is planned, equipped with benches which will create an informal meeting space.
“Eventually the site will be completely volunteer-run, and everybody will be able to share the produce,” said Rachel.
“Then anything in excess of that will be offered to the school kitchen. We’re also looking at making partnerships with other lunch clubs and potentially a food bank.
“It’s an opportunity for people who don’t have their own garden to have a space where they can grow something, or if they don’t have the confidence they can come and learn from the team.”
She added: “We’re trying things out to see what works well in the garden, so it’s early days for the project, but the school relationship will grow and grow.
“Obviously the National Trust has got experience and expertise that we can bring in to show people how to run a garden in an organic way.
“We don’t use pesticides or any chemicals on the garden – only natural fertilisers like manure. We want the allotment to be as environmentally sound as possible.”
The forest garden follows the system of permaculture, Rachel explained.
“We’re looking for things that will grow all the time rather than on an annual basis, like rhubarb and types of spinach. It’s more difficult in the UK because of our climate, but rainforests have a brilliant ability to have this permaculture because of the qualities of the soil.”
There is no fixed timescale for the project, as the lease on the plot – the largest at Hagg Lane – is renewed every year, in line with the rest of Sheffield’s allotments.
“We want to be involved for a long time,” said Rachel.
n More volunteers are being sought – email email@example.com or call 01433 631757 for details.