I recently spent a gorgeous late autumn afternoon with my kids at their rented garden allotment in the middle of our village near the Birmingham city centre. Although we were literally less than ten minutes away from the hustle and bustle of shopping, traffic and myriad bus lanes of the city, the urban zen of this beautiful inner-city garden allotment made me feel like I was a million miles away.
The idea of inner city garden allotments isn’t new. In fact, this one, Harborne Hill Allotments, has been around for quite some time. Its history spans two world wars, during which time it literally kept many local families fed and supplied enough food to share with neighbours. According to Harborne Hill Allotments, up until the 1970s aerial photos showed the allotment filled with ‘immaculate, clean plots, straight rows of vegetables and hardly a weed in sight.’
These days, the plots aren’t as “immaculate” as they were then, I imagine people just get busy, but there are still over 100 dedicated tenants that rent plots (around £100 annually) and spend a lot of time there digging, planting, weeding, growing and harvesting food and flowers all season long.
For me, the most wonderful aspect was simply the urban zen. The air is fresh and clean smelling and you can’t hear any of the sounds of the city at all. And, once I started digging, I could feel every muscle in my body engage in the satisfying physical labour that you just can’t get inside of a gym.
Our goal for the day was to prepare the soil and site for winter. This involved harvesting the last of the potatoes and apples, and of course taking a few shots for Instagram! Eventually (no thanks to me), the plot itself will be fully covered in plastic tarp which will keep any new growth stunted so it can become a “blank canvas” for fresh, new planting in the Spring.
But an inner-city garden allotment is so much more than just planting and gardening. It’s a total ZEN space where you can really get away from it all, just a few minutes away from your house or job. This one also features charming, quiet walking paths that lead along other garden plots and flower beds and wind around apple orchards and wild berry brambles.
Plus, like any good “secret garden” there are some hidden steps within the orchard that climb up to a beautiful clearing with a resting bench overlooking a view of a quintessentially English landscape.
At the end of the day, after so much hard work, strolling, chatting, meditation and fresh air, the next natural progression is hunger and it strikes hard! I mean, like your stomach starts to growl like an angry arctic bear well overdue for his lunch. If you’re smart, you can pack something nice and hot to bring along, like my favourite, baked sweet potato or veggie stew in a thermos.
Finally, be prepared to allow plenty of time to clean up before lunch because you’ll get dirt under your nails and mud on your boots. I also suggest making time afterwards to chill out with a good cup of tea and a throw blanket for a good long nap on the sofa. Overall, you’re bound to be so tired and relaxed a good snooze will make it the end to a perfect Saturday or Sunday morning.
Do you rent or own an inner-city garden allotment? Have you ever visited one? Do you garden at home? Would you consider renting a space? I’d love to hear about your experience with gardening, or how you find urban zen in the city? Let’s chat. Leave a comment below.