Most none-allotment folk could be forgiven for thinking that a visit to the village allotment open day would be mostly cream teas, paper doilies, and maybe a string quartet if available. On a visit to my local allotment open day though, the traditional offering had been exchanged for something altogether different – I’d say it was less chintz and definitely more rock’n roll!
It was of course part of the National Open Gardens scene, giving opportunity to see gardens that otherwise are not generally open to the public. As I alluded to though, this is most definitely different to the norm, and I can only point towards the unusual characters that were lurking amongst the veggies!
In many ways it’s a standard allotment venue, featuring a good many full size plots. (If you’re not familiar with the size of a typical plot, let me just say – they’re big!) The soil is free draining, very well cultivated and it’s one of the longest established allotments in the country.
Thankfully, the Wellesbourne Allotment Association is forward looking, and so it’s good to see that for some while now, half plots have been made available to allotment wannabes who reach the top of the list. This of course gives families and folks with less time or energy a chance to at least gain a foothold on the ‘grow your own’ ladder.
It’s clearly a very productive site with a mix of seasoned plot holders growing in every available space, and newer time-starved plot holders who are nevertheless giving it a blooming good go.
I chatted with one parent allotmenteer who knows exactly how far behind they were with their progress this year, (due mainly to the crazy late spring growth rates!) but could clearly see the benefits it brought his family, giving opportunity for them to experience first hand the grounding process of growing their own food.
Of course there were sheds, lots of sheds, although this allotment landscape isn’t dominated by them like some other sites. Maybe I’m getting too artistically motivated, but I wanted each and every shed to have meaning, maybe their presentation speaking of its owners character.
Some were very smart, some less so, some were artistically painted with trinkets and embellishment, and some not. All however were very much rooted to the site, earthy, characterful and I thought, very personal.
The spirit of the National Garden Scheme was certainly, as always, upheld. Whilst some plots were taped off with hazard tape for reasons unbeknown to me, the majority welcomed visitors openly.
A refreshment marquee was very busy, and Mr Whippy, despite the breeze, enjoyed a buoyant trade. Faces were painted, plants were sold, honey was bought and hips were definitely moved by a brilliant Rock Choir!
Besides all the fun fruit and flowers there was a brand new development at the allotment site that is, for Wellesbourne allotments a step in a very different direction. The image below shows an allotment strip that has been reworked with community support to form a ‘Dementia-friendly allotment’.
The entire space is wheelchair and buggy friendly, yet whilst it’s content and use has yet to develop, it is envisaged that the lot will become a village base to support horticultural therapy, giving this plot of land an even stronger reason for being.
However, and here’s where I return to my opening lines about the darker side of allotment life: the scarecrow trail. (Que the overly dramatic fifties horror film music – dan dan daaaarr!)
Again, don’t get me wrong, I think we were meant to chuckle (and we did) at the comedic scarecrow characters, although some did have slightly sinister undertones. For example, unlike the headless character at the top of this article, we never actually located the body of this unfortunate victim below! 😱
On the whole though, it was all just a bit of fun – I trust. Hmmm, anyway, it gave good reason to tour the site with the children to seek out that next scarecrow, which of course allowed me to see all the beautifully grown produce – there’s clearly some dedicated and creative growers on the site.
Before I leave my article I do want to raise awareness of one last and very important point. It is that these fun loving, diverse, 180 year old allotments are actually under the threat of closure. Yes the very site where generations have toiled to enrich the soil and grow healthy food for their families will likely be sold from under their feet, by agreement of the Diocese of Coventry and Warwickshire.
It’s more clearly explained via the SOWA website, (Save Our Wellesbourne Allotments) but it’s clear to see that the land is inevitably well positioned for new housing, but it’s difficult to see such hard working people treated so, and essentially just for monetary gain. The situation continues to evolve, and is outlined in this Stratford Herald article, but I’ll hasten to add that whilst offers of alternative allotments have been made, I believe no agreement has yet been reached, and the ‘Save Our Wellesbourne Allotments banner continues to be displayed at the entrance to the site. It would be such a loss to the village should the allotments be exchanged for yet more unaffordable housing.
I’d like to thank Wellesbourne Allotment volunteers for hosting such a fabulous National Garden Scheme afternoon – full of entertainment amongst the fruit and flowers. It is always such a treat to visit, and especially to see the community and allotment wide effort – great work indeed. Roll-on 2020 for the next NGS Open Gardens Day!
Gary Webb, #GardeningWays