Today I visited an allotment in New Ross:
This particular allotment had a very strong sense of community about it. Even though it had only been open for 8 weeks, there were crops planted and they were well under way. There were 38 plots there at the time of writing this, but three more were already under construction. One of its most prominent difference to the other allotments I had visited was that this allotment makes use of different farming techniques, such as the use of raised beds to help alleviate some of the stresses associated with planting, like continuous bending and maintaining an awkward position. However, these raised beds were originally created to help those who require wheelchair access, but as there are no people using the allotment who currently require the use of a wheelchair, these patches have gone to older persons, which is very helpful to them.
It was at this allotment that I met Mary Walsh, who was very forthcoming with information about the allotment:
Mary lives nearby in New Ross, and has been a member of the allotment since it was created. She loves gardening, but does not have the space to grow her own fruit and vegetables at her home, because her garden is small, and is already full of flowers, and other items like wheelie bins. According to her, this allotment is based loosely on one in Gorey. She grows both fruit – strawberries, rhubarb, blackcurrants and rasberries – and vegetables – lettuce, parsnips, celery, kohl rabi, potatoes, onions and garlic – and they are coming along nicely. However, a nearby plot’s potatoes had become afflicted with blight, and she was told that it was almost a certainty that her potatoes will become infected. When I met her, she was spraying her potatoes. People bring their kids to the allotment very often, and they all get involved with planting and care. Mary was kind enough to allow my little cousin to help her tend to her plot while I interviewed her. She visits at least 4 times a week, but this was more frequent during the first few weeks. She spends on average one hour per visit tending to her plot. This allotment was her first time growing foodstuffs.
The membership fee for this particular allotment is €75 per year for people who are working, and €50 per year for those who aren’t. This money mainly goes towards electricity for the outdoor lighting. The allotment itself is frequently visited and maintained by two expert horticulturists, hired through an agency for this job. These gardeners do not impose their will on people, but will gladly help those who ask for advice or help. The allotment provides fertilizer, stones/rocks and other things free of charge for people who require them. Other upsides to this allotment include the relaxed atmosphere, meeting new people, and the fact that one can grow whatever one likes.. within reason of course. In terms of territory and property, the current allotment’s land was donated by the nearby Magdalene laundry as compensation to the community. The land which will be used to house poly tunnels will be donated by the nearby Mercy school, on the condition that the transition year students can use four of the plots. It was nice to see that land which would have otherwise gone to waste is being used for some good.
Mary also mentioned how there will be a social centre build on the site which now houses the topsoil. This will include an area for the consumption of beverages such as tea, and will also include a bowling green as this has become a collective interest between the older persons who use the allotment. However, she also advised me that one has to be interested an enthusiastic about gardening to do this kind of thing. People had arrived the first day, sowed some seeds, left, and haven’t returned since. There is always work to be done on the allotment. She is rarely doing nothing when she visits, and it can become time consuming.
Mary does not sell her produce. Even though she is inundated with lettuce, she feels that selling them would turn her hobby into work. Instead, she trades what she grows for produce that others grow. This way, there is no quota that needs to be reached, and everyone can trade what they don’t need for things that they want.
There has been a minor issue with vandalism in this allotment, with local youths climbing over the walls into the area, and breaking windows in the toilets.
In terms of interest with the whole area of GYO, Mary has noticed a major resurgence of interest since recession times. People who have lost jobs, or who are looking to save money have begun to flock to allotments to grow their own food, whether to pass the time, to be entertained, to meet others, or to just get out of the house.
I feel, after speaking with Mary and looking around, that this allotment was very well planned. The facilities on site as well as the two gardeners employed there really add to the experience. When asked about methods of growing such as hydroponics, Mary said that she would be very interested in trying it out. It was brought up in a meeting to include some hydroponic systems in the new poly tunnels. Growing crops without the use of soil, with no pest problems and with little chance of disease appealed to her very much. These were her words, not mine! She also added that if someone was truly interested in growing their own plants, they would definitely be interested in all gardening methods, not just traditional.
My little cousin had a very nice time there too.
Grows flowering plants in her own house
Has no space for a vegetable plot
Lives near an allotment
Has major issues with disease on the allotment plot
Has had some indirect vandalism issues
Is interested in the concept of hydroponics and different methods of growing