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How long have allotments been around

01:00 Fri 15th Feb 2002 |

A.� There are some small 'Celtic' fields in Lands End, Cornwall dating back to 100BC that are still in use as allotments today.

The word originates from the reign of Elizabeth I when common land started to become enclosed into larger fields and estates. The local commoners were compensated by being 'allotted' plots of land next to tenanted cottages.

Although the concept continued for centuries it wasn't until the 1880s, under pressure from the urban working classes who had no land to grow anything on, that the Allotment Act was passed obliging local authorities to provide allotments.

Demand for public allotments greatly increased during the two world wars when food was in short supply but went into steady decline after the second world war as agriculture geared itself up to mass production of cheap food and land was in demand for new housing and development.

However, demand for allotments has risen steadily again in the past decade thanks to concerns about chemicals in food and the rise of the organic food movement. It has been further fuelled by the huge rise in interest in gardening generally, particularly among those in urban areas who have little or no garden of their own.

Q.� So how do you go about getting one

A.� Your first port of call is your local authority. Just call the main switchboard and ask for allotments. In some rural areas it could be the parish council who are in charge, but the authority will be able to advise you on this.

Demand varies across the country and, with the recent resurgence of interest, you may find that you have to go onto a waiting list, although this is still relatively rare.

Contrary to popular belief you don't have to wait for some old boy to join the garden club in the sky before one is available.

There are a couple of good websites for allotment gardeners that actually monitor provision in different areas. Start with the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners site at

Q.� How much do they cost

A.� The costs can vary enormously around the country but are still well within most people's means, starting as low as about 10 per year and rarely over 50. There are usually concessions for the over-60s or unemployed.

Q.� Who runs them

A.� Although the local authority has the duty to provide the space what usually happens is the decision making on the ground, so to speak, is delegated to an allotment committee or society, who are often also responsible for collecting the rent.

It might sound a bit intimidating, especially for a relatively inexperienced gardener, but shouldn't.

The society will set some rules and parameters but they're members are usually fonts of knowledge and experience. They will organise communal composting and use the combined purchasing power of the members to buy in seeds, compost and fertilizers at wholesale rates.

Q.� Is it all about growing vegetables

A.� Not at all, you can grow anything you like. You may want to grow flowers for cutting or you might want to create your own mini vineyard, the choice is yours.

One thing you'll find won't make you popular is allowing your plot to get overrun by weeds. Allotments are close knit communities and there is nothing more frustrating for your neighbours than having your weed seeds germinating all over their lovingly tended patch.

If you've got a question about your home or garden, click here.

By Tom Gard

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