From Garden to Allotment

Carolann Philip first embarked on her gardening journey as a hobby. She wanted to create an inviting and plant-rich space in which to relax during the tedious periods of lockdown. Even though she did not have a large garden space, she set herself some achievable goals and made manageable changes for a beautiful garden. 

One of Carolann’s primary goals was to increase her garden’s biodiversity, so she created five flower borders in which to be creative and left some areas at the back of her garden wild to allow nature to take its own course. She split her garden space in two with decking and pots, and added a shed with an attached polytunnel. 

Carolann wanted bird feeders and bird baths which, as well as looking lovely, would also contribute to that all-important garden biodiversity. And to enjoy all her hard work, she opted for various seating locations throughout the garden so that she could view it from different perspectives and appreciate different aspects each time. 

Allotment Planting
In smaller gardens it can be hard to create more planting space once you have been bitten by the bug. Keen to expand on the success of her garden, Carolann acquired her first half plot allotment, less than a ten minute walk from her home.

When you have a limited growing space, allotments are a great way to experiment with a bigger plot, particularly if you are keen to try growing more fruit, vegetables, and herbs. 

Planting Problems
Taking on an allotment can mean entering unknown territory. It is important to consider the physical situation of the land – where it sits on the landscape, how even the land is, how exposed it is and what condition the soil is in. 

In Carolann’s case, the whole allotment site was situated on a slope at the rear of the site and on the top end of the slope, leaving it more exposed to the elements of wind, rain, and sun. This meant that Carolann had to carefully consider the plants she might place or any structures that she might build there. 

As well as her plot being exposed, Carolann also faced the issue of the ground being uneven. Before she could plant or build anything effectively, she had to level the ground in her new growing space. 

Taking on a new allotment can be a lot of work. Soils will vary in texture, moisture level, and nutrient content – all of which greatly affect the type of plants that can be grown there. In Carolann’s case, the soil on her allotment was sandy, did not retain moisture well, and had a poor nutrient content. 

“When you become a new allotment holder,” Carolann says, “you inherit the soil, which can be an advantage or disadvantage. I began to dig the area and found rusty screws, nuts and bolts, and the more I dug the more I found! I think the allotment had been used for burning a lot of material previously which meant it wasn’t ideal for growing!”

Solutions for Success
Undeterred by the challenges of her new allotment, Carolann looked at ways to work around it. When she took her time to assess its potential, she found that the soil at its rear of the plot was a lot more workable than she previously thought. This meant that her seemingly unplantable plot, could be tackled with proper preparation. She opted to grow directly in the ground at the back of the allotment, where the soil was more suited to planting, and build raised beds over the more difficult soil at the front.

Adapting to the circumstances, Carolann decided to build a potager style garden in which she could grow edible and non-edible flowers, herbs, and other edibles with the aim of creating a planting space that was both joyful and highly productive. By sectioning the garden with raised beds, she was able to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. 

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
In allotment planting, raised beds are a great way to overcome difficult planting conditions as well as add variety to the space. What’s more, raised beds can be easy to source or make yourself. Carolann’s timber pallet collars were made using reclaimed wood, which is environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and functional. The wood was light and easily moved, which allowed her to be experimental in her garden layout. All in all, they are a great choice for anyone who wants to try their hand with a new planting layout. 

Recycling natural resources is a powerful tool in allotment planning. Natural fertilisers for example, can do wonders for unforgiving soils. Carolann used well-rotted horse manure that she acquired from a local horse stable for a small donation, to improve the soil structure in her allotment’s borders and vegetable beds. 

Similarly, gardeners can reuse rainwater – of which there is plenty in Scotland! Carolann began harvesting rainwater by collecting it in pots and watering cans. She then acquired a couple of slimline water barrels through the generosity of the allotment community, and uses them to keep her plants and vegetables well-watered in Scotland’s rarer dry and hot spells. 

“I compost my allotment waste by cold composting,” says Carolann. An equal mix of carbon and nitrogen will provide me with my own nutrient-rich, organic compost for future use. I also have an active wormery which will provide me the same. If I do need to buy compost, I always buy peat-free from my local plant nursery to support a local business.

“I put out a shout out to my local community for plastic pots and seed trays I could use to sow and grow plants, preventing them going to landfill. I use toilet rolls to grow my sweet peas every year as these make very good root trainers and are compostable.”

A Bumper Harvest
“Growing produce in a new space in your first year can be daunting and experimental – learning how to work with the soil, dealing with the local climate, and any microclimates within the growing space, as well as identifying and dealing with any peats and diseases effectively. 

Harvesting runny beans ‘Scarlet Emperor’

“Being an RBGE and RHS distance learner studying horticulture has given me so much knowledge to put into practice in my own green spaces in my own time.

“My first year growing was highly productive, increasing my gardening confidence as I had no experience of growing vegetables before. This year saw me harvesting cabbages, dwarf and climbing runner beans, sugar snap peas, carrots, parsnips, leeks, tomatoes, beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, tatties, rocket, courgettes, and turnips – a lot of which I have shared with neighbours and family, spreading the green goodness. I plan to grow some more fruit such as raspberries, blueberries, and apples and have chosen dwarf varieties, which will suit my half plot growing space.”

A Plant-rich Space
In describing her approach to allotment planting, Carolann says, “As a keen plantswoman and beekeeper, I wanted to create informal, naturalistic, plant-rich areas around the inside perimeter of the allotment to attract pollinating insects. 

“I grew from seed a mix of annual and perennial flowers including Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘Dazzler’, Helianthus annuus ‘Velvet Queen’, Borage officinalis, Geranium pratense, Anthemis arvensis, Agrostemma githago, Papaver rhoeas, Antirrhinum majus ‘Orange Wonder’, Lychnis flos-cuculi, and many more!

“It’s safe to say that I adore gardening and have a thirst for learning more. Working full time in finance and studying horticulture means my time can be stretched so I am thankful that my parents, who are retired, can help me keep on top of some weeding, watering, and general allotment DIY.  It’s great to be able to have some quality time with them enjoying gardening too!” 

Carolann’s Top Tips for Scottish Gardeners  
1. Always work with nature, if you try to fight against it, you will not win. 

2. Grow vegetables you enjoy or can give away – there is no point in taking the time to grow something that will go to waste.  

3. Share the joy of growing – share the produce, help reduce food poverty, and cheer someone up with something tasty to eat or freshly cut flowers for their home. 

4. Encourage pollinating insects into your garden: climate change and our fragile ecosystems rely on us more than ever.  

5. Enjoy your space! Take a break to sit. enjoy and listen to the nature in your garden. This is proven to reduce stress and improve our wellbeing.  

6. Take photos of your space in each season, as this will give you a diary of how your green space is evolving and what grew well the year before.

7. Give it a go! Never be afraid of getting something wrong, we aren’t all perfect. 

You can keep up with Carolann’s gardening journey on her Facebook page ‘Pollinator Friendly Gardening’, which documents and hopefully inspires others to create plant rich spaces which they and nature can enjoy.

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