Allotments are for sharing in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:18 06 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:18 06 September 2018

Gillian Damerell is pleased with her crop of runner beans at the Grow-Our-Own community allotments at the Bluebell South Allotments. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Gillian Damerell is pleased with her crop of runner beans at the Grow-Our-Own community allotments at the Bluebell South Allotments. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

A community of gardeners in Norwich has grown from one man’s allotment to a harvest of fruit, veg and friendship

Ripe red raspberries are ready to pick, green beans hang from still-flowering plants and sunflowers beam yellow across allotments brimming with fruit, vegetables and flowers.

People are plucking, pruning, watering, weeding, chatting and eating – part of a community of 80 people who share 11 allotments.

Each allotment is divided into small strips so that a potentially-daunting entire plot becomes a much more manageable mini garden.

Rita Gallard is growing at least 17 different crops over her three strips. Novice gardener Mansurah Mears has hardly grown anything since childhood but, for her first harvest, has a strip packed with courgettes, kale, sweetcorn, Jerusalem artichoke, strawberries, rhubarb, gooseberries, peas, parsley, celeriac, sprouts and potatoes, and brings her daughter and grandchildren to help. Gillian Damerell, an oceanography researcher at the University of East Anglia, and also a co-ordinator of the Grow Our Own group, has a profusion of black radishes, runner beans, strawberries, beans, peppers and more.

Stacked wheelbarrows at the Grow-Our-Own community allotments at the Bluebell South Allotments. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYStacked wheelbarrows at the Grow-Our-Own community allotments at the Bluebell South Allotments. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“It’s like medieval strip farming!” said Rita Gallard. “Allotments were designed to be big enough to grow enough food for a family for the entire year, so it makes sense to share one. It’s very friendly.” As well as her own crops, and communal fruit trees and bushes, people often leave out surplus produce. “I went home with a large courgette and a couple of sunflowers last week,” said Rita.

There are more than 200 allotments on the Bluebell South site, off The Avenues in Norwich, laid out in the 1930s, with fruit trees at each intersection. “Wherever tracks or paths crossed fruit trees, mainly Norfolk varieties, were planted for communal use, so we have got these old apple, pear and plum trees to cherish,” said Rita.

In a quirky piece of visual gardening wit, a beauty of bath apple tree close to the Grow Our Own strips is surrounded by old baths overflowing with herbs.

A grapevine, heavy with green grapes, and a kiwi plant, grow up either side of the entrance to the big headquarters shed. Outside is a patio with tables and chairs, and pathways leading to dozens of pretty strips of allotment.

Some are colourful with marigolds, cornflowers and evening primrose, others have neat rows of staked and netted vegetables. “One woman grew the flowers to make her daughter’s wedding bouquet,” said Rita. A Scout group tends another patch and there are 15 raised beds, for people with mobility problems.

Grow Our Own is run by committee, with everyone part of a team and volunteering a few days a year to help with tasks including shed-painting, hedge-cutting, tree-pruning, path-weeding, administration or composting. One team grows seedlings in the greenhouse, available for members to plant out in their plots. The gardening is all organic, with communal tools, compost and manure, plus on-tap gardening advice, and regular talks and workshops on everything from soil maintenance and dealing with pests to jam-making and cookery.

It was set up around 15 years ago by Mahesh Pant who now also runs the Marlpit Community Garden, alongside Marriott’s Way, Norwich. As well as fruit and vegetable plots the community garden also has beehives, an orchard, and a forest garden – and gardeners include classes of primary school children.

Mahesh grew up in Nepal, where his family grew almost all their own food. He moved to Britain to study international development in Norwich. Keen to grow food for his family he hired an allotment. At first he gleaned tips from fellow allotment holders, now the allotment-share scheme and community garden he founded as The Sustainable Living Initiative have helped hundreds of people share knowledge, tools, seeds, seedlings, cuttings, surplus fruit and veg, recipes and a monthly lunches based around the food they have grown.

Mahesh plans to leave in 2020 and members are already working to ensure his dream continues. “At the beginning the purpose was very simple, to support new gardeners,” said Mahesh. He was so successful that instead of moving on to their own allotments, many people decided to stay part of the community he founded and which still thrives as Grow Our Own and the Marlpit Community Garden.

Anyone interested in joining or finding out more should visit or go along to the annual Grow Our Own open day, 11am-3pm, Sunday, October 7.

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