There are many reasons why we take up gardening: pleasure, health, even business. The desire for a more organic lifestyle, the urge to get involved with a growing community. Wanting to learn, wanting to teach, or just wanting to garden. It’s an investment that means a lot to so many people. But how much should you invest?
How many times has Soph has caught me with a glossy garden magazine, drooling over a svelte garden shed. Greenhouse websites tease me with their silver sage colour range. Tool companies seduce me with their sleek tools: spades so shiny, that to stick them in heavy soil seems sacrilegious. Whether you have an established garden or are about to take on an allotment that hasn’t seen a hoe in ten years, at some point, you’re going have to reach for the hard-earned cash in your pocket. Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to cost the earth to invest in horticulture. There are always ways of saving at least a few pennies.
It’s fair to say, if my allotment was entered into an allotment show tomorrow, it would easily win the ‘Steptoe & Son’ award. It’s not the most glamorous of sites, however, I wanted a practical allotment. One that would produce bumper crops and flowers. The personality of my allotment would evolve as I grew as a gardener. To my delight it has, and now with a few years of growing experience under my tool belt, I regard my allotment as the Millennium Falcon of plots. As Han Solo once said: ‘she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.’
I’ve got a bench and compost bays made from pallets, I use old tyres as squash beds, and I put together a herb trough from old bits of wood along with some stair spindles left over from our house renovations. I even split a fermenting beer barrel into two, which is now growing carrots and squashes.
Because I’m part of an allotment community, I save money on seeds by receiving and sharing with fellow gardeners. My sweetcorn seeds came from a gardening friend, and earlier this year, a fellow plotholder presented me with a bag full of dahlia tubers which are now blooming under the summer sun. We’ve also got free manure coming out of our ears… (hmm, not the most pleasant image!)
Allotment holders come and go, quite often leaving behind what they regard as rubbish, but to the seasoned allotmenteer, this is treasure. Currently, most of my borders are made from a broken old shed, a wind breaker from a collapsed shelter, and a water-butt from an attic storage tank. I pass several skips as I walk to my allotment, all with items I could easily make use of. A knock on a door, a polite conversation with a neighbour, perhaps an offer of free courgettes, and those unwanted items could fit nicely into my organic Millennium Falcon.
Skips are a great resource if you’re into upcycling. You may want to check out UnSkip.com which is a free service that helps reduce landfill. People who have hired skips register their skip on the site so that people in the vicinity can come and take what they want. It means they don’t have to pay to have their skip emptied, their neighbours get unwanted goodies to recycle, and less junk is sent to the scrapheap. You just type in your postcode to find a nearby skip to scavenge, and it’s win win all round!
You see all sorts of creative upcycling at the allotment. On the plot next to me, my neighbour has turned an old climbing frame into a runner bean support. Then a little further down, someone with a very dark soul has created the scarecrow from Hell.
They may lack the ‘spit and polish’ of the Chelsea Flower show, but, for me, they show a lot of creativity, individuality, and practicality. Upcycling has never looked so good.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy looking at the expensive garden catalogues and visiting garden shows that parade the latest garden design. I even submit to ‘three for two’ plant offers
now and then regularly… (cough!) But with a bit of imagination, I’ve cultivated a real allotment for a real gardener, using bits and pieces I’ve found around me.
For now, I’ll do what I can to hold onto my pennies, and keep the greenhouse/bachelor-pad/shed/suite/home-cinema/cider-shop firmly on my wishlist..