Allotments – nature’s cure after pandemic leaves gardeners wilting
Just yards from a busy road in Sheffield, there’s an oasis of calm at Hangingwater Road allotments – where veg grows among tumbling wildflowers and a view of mature trees and open sky stretches as far as the eye can see.
For councillor Angela Argenzio the tranquility, being close to nature and the physical work of tending an allotment all help to make her mind an oasis of calm too.
Angela owns a plot and also sits on the council’s allotment advisory group. She has always loved growing her own food but says during lockdown, the fresh air and closeness to nature helped ease her anxiety of the pandemic.
“We grow french beans, chard, broad beans, beetroots, onions, peas,” she says, as she cuts courgettes from a bed, as small ornamental gourds peek out through bright yellow flowers.
“We have had an amazing crop of gooseberries, red currants and raspberries and the potatoes keep coming.
“We also have artichokes, they were hard to find when I first arrived in the UK from Italy so we started growing them but then discovered my husband was allergic to them. I keep them though because I love their big purple flowers.”
The veg is hard to spot nestled among the wild flowers and long grass as Angela is keen to keep the allotment untamed.
“We get a lot of bees and ladybirds, and robins which come and sit near you. We don’t use chemicals at all, it’s all organic.”
Everyone felt uncertain, worried and claustrophobic during the lockdowns but the allotment became a haven for Angela and her family as it was a change of scenery, socially distanced and in the fresh air.
“It’s a lot of physical work but having an outdoor space where you’re digging, weeding and just thinking really makes you relax. It has a positive effect on my mental health.
“Going to an allotment was one of the few things you could do during lockdown and it was a real sanctuary.
“My husband used to commute to London three times a week but he’s had more time to spend on the allotment and it really helped when he was diagnosed with Long Covid last summer.
“We have a garden but my biggest love is the allotment and the time we spend here. It’s really good for us as a family as you end up chatting and it’s made us think how lucky we are and how amazing it is to have this piece of land.
“We come at least once a week but during lockdown my husband came every day. We had amazing weather during the first lockdown and we have appreciated it so much, it has felt like a real luxury. We realised how privileged we were.”
Angela says growing your own veg, picking and cooking it for your family is incredibly satisfying.
“Growing veg has encouraged the children to eat food they didn’t originally like. When they were small they didn’t like some things such as courgettes and tomatoes but because we grew them, they have persevered and like them now.
“Even if you just grow something on a windowsill or balcony in a container it will always taste better but it hasn’t travelled and is as fresh as it can be so it gives you enormous satisfaction.
“My grandfather used to get on my nerves worrying about his tomatoes but I understand now the satisfaction of growing something then feeding your family with it. It’s on a different level, it literally grounds me.”
There are more than 3,100 allotment plots over a total of 70 sites in the city but the council says that it has recently seen a huge surge in demand.
Angela says there’s a shortage in the west – Hangingwater Road has a waiting list of between five to seven years and there’s currently 104 people on it.
“There is a shortage of allotments in the west and the council is desperately trying to find other sites but it’s really difficult,” she says.
“There are vacancies in the north and the council has also started splitting some of the larger plots into two. You could also share an allotment with a friend.”
Sheffield Council says before applying for an allotment, people need to consider their health and physical ability, how much they need to learn, and the size of the plot.
They advise that allotments take a “great deal of time” and people who intend to take one up need to be motivated.
The local authority also suggests that those interested consider how they intend to learn what needs doing and when.
There are community allotments which are aimed at people who may have particular needs or difficulty in accessing an allotment plot of their own and they are given full support.
As part of National Allotment Week, which runs between Monday, August 9 and Sunday, August 15 the National Allotment Society says sites should feature in Local Plans so councils can increase supply or protect them from being developed.
Redrow house builders has been commended for including allotments in or close to its new developments.
And the Society says allotments need to be recognised as part of health and wellbeing strategies, particularly because they can be used as a tool to help older people to stay active and socialise.
You can find more details or register for an allotment by visiting: www.sheffield.gov.uk/allotments