Sticking to the plot: A celebration of permaculture allotment projects

by Kath, projects network coordinator

It's National Allotment Week from 9 to 15 August 2021. For many of us, especially those who don’t have gardens, our allotments have served as a place of sanctuary and sanity during the long, restrictive months of COVID lockdowns.

Often located in the heart of communities, many allotments have become thriving projects, where people gather to learn about growing food and to connect with nature and each other. In this post I will share the story of my allotment site and the medicinal herb garden project I started there last year. I also want to celebrate two other permaculture inspired allotment projects from within our membership.

Redacre

Redace village green, 2018My allotment is sited on the community owned Redacre Growing Project in Mytholmroyd, a village nestled deep in the South Pennine hills. The project was established in 2009 and occupies a former landfill site, which was very apparent to us early plot holders by the weird treasure we unearthed from the heavy clay soil!

It sits between the Rochdale canal and Redacre Woods and is a haven of flora and fauna, alongside being a vibrant community and food growing space. Anyone living locally is welcome to join Redacre as a friend by paying a nominal fee in order to benefit from sharing in our communal facilities, open days, work days and social events.

Redacre is perhaps a little different from many conventional allotment plots because it has been designed with community cohesion, fun, biodiversity and organic, wildlife-friendly growing at its core.

Thirteen years on, we are now celebrating 24 full allotment plots, 39 durable raised beds made from recycled plastic by a local company, a large wildlife pond, school wildlife garden, hazel coppice, group tool shed with tool and seed library, two large composting bays, an accessible composting toilet and a community orchard with apple trees, rhubarb and fruit bushes.

The central hub of the site is our ‘village green’ housing a communal timber framed eco-roundhouse (built by local people through a series of green building workshops), a traditionally built pizza oven, fire pit and picnic benches. A co-operative group manages our two chicken areas, taking it in turns to muck out, feed and water the unruly mob of hens, splitting the cost of food and sharing the eggs. Similarly, a local bee group runs our on site apiary, using natural bee-keeping techniques. We also have two polytunnels that have each been divided into eight sections, rented out to anyone who needs a bit of indoor growing space.

Herb gardenWhen the first lockdown happened and shop shelves started empty, my need for self-reliance came into sharp focus. Not only in terms of growing food, but also to create a comprehensive library of medicinal plants that could help to boost our immune systems, mitigate against common illnesses and encourage a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.

I started the Redacre Medicinal Herb Garden with a day of herb mapping at the growing project with an ecologist friend. We discovered that over 40 medicinal species already existed at Redacre. After our mapping day we listed of all of the other native and non native medicinal herb plants we would like to include in the garden, collaboratively researched their growing requirements and put a call out into the wider community for donations of plants: redacre.org/medicinal-herbs

Following three productive community work days, there are now two areas on the site where herbs are planted in raised beds, all made by volunteers from repurposed wood. One is in a shady spot by the canal and the other in a more sunny site to the west of the site. Each bed has slightly different soil conditions to reflect the needs of a wide range of native herbs.

The herb garden is managed by members and friends of Redacre Growing project. There has already been a medicinal herb walk on site with an experienced local herbalist and we hope to run some more workshops and medicine making sessions in the future. Once they are established in the garden, seeds will be saved and plants will be divided so we can share them with other community gardens in the area.

Plot 163b becoming an abundant food forest

Plot 163bWenderlynn and Iain Bagnall of Wyld Edges are experienced permaculture designers and educators who are passionate in sharing how permaculture design and practice can enhance physical and emotional well-being.

They have recently moved from their five acre smallholding in Devon back to Hertfordshire, where they are developing Plot 163b, an allotment plot that has been abandoned for two years, into an abundant food forest. The plot is situated between a nature reserve and a housing estate and has a neighbouring community garden.

Plot 163b is currently a LAND learner, which means that Wenderlynn and Iain are designing it to be a site for demonstrating practical permaculture techniques, including forest and no-dig gardening. They are able to do small tours of their plot and offer private one-on-one workshops at the site. I am always delighted to see emerging allotment LAND centres as it feels so important to inspire people with practical permaculture ideas at a scale that they can relate to and apply on their own plots.

Belper Permaculture Network transforming an unloved plot

Belper Permaculture Network allotment summer 2020In February 2020, Belper Permaculture Network took on an allotment plot as a group of five households. There were no existing structures, just one unhappy self-set cherry tree. Plus, it was a bog, which then dried out to a crisp by May, which made for an exciting design challenge for water management!

After six months of finding creative ways of working together with the ever changing COVID restrictions, the group had observed where best to place elements of the allotment. Using consent decision making, the group developed a site design and now have six no dig beds for annual vegetables, three hot composting bays, a nursery bed, herb and fruit bed, edible shrubs border, a perennial guild area, new native hedgerows, a wildlife pond, a shed and a playhouse.

The edge between the annual vegetable beds and hedgerow is turning into a diverse place. A social and play space is also underway, kept weed free using cardboard with a layer of woodchip on top. Watch a video tour from last summer.

Find more projects

You can find these plus lots of other inspiring projects on our new Projects and LAND network map.

I would also love to know about the allotment projects that you run in your community. Who do you share your plot with? What role does it play within your community? What features does it have and what makes it special to you? Please log into the membership area to add your project to the map and share your allotment story with us.