I am very excited about this new project which involves leading some class-based beginners horticulture and lots of hands on work at the project’s Allotment (plot 49). The Welcome Centre is located in Seven Kings and is run by the Healthy Living Projects which provides accommodation, training and employment opportunities for local homeless people. I have been commissioned by the Prospects Project to deliver gardening workshops to their service users and volunteers.

I first viewed the Allotment site at the beginning of November and I have to confess to a slight sinking feeling in my feet, not due solely to the mud, but the realisation of the enormity of the task ahead.

Undeterred and convinced I can help turn this plot around with the support of the staff, service users and volunteers, we set to work this morning. The plot hadn’t been touched since last year and so the soil is covered in grass, brambles, couch grass, bind weed and other perennial weeds. Deeply inspired by my latest read ‘Joe’s Allotment’ by Joe Swift, I began with the talk about the types of weeds and how to deal with them, namely, by taking a two-pronged approach of topping and tailing. The seed heads remaining were despatched and bagged and the stems and roots were thrown on to the newly emerging compost mound, which will need looking after if it’s to come good.

By 11am we were a plot posse of ten (which I have named the 49ers) and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Despite meeting each other for the first time, we all got on great and there was much smiling and chatting as we worked at clearing, lifting, moving, digging and romping over the long forgotten undulating soil beneath our feet. A path slowly began to reveal itself, but unfortunately some of the timber beds are now rotten, but just enough still in place to give an echo of where path and bed meet.

We’ve decided to grow organically and so ripping off the old carpets that had been left by previous users was placed up in a corner and when we work out how to best get rubbish off the site, they shall go. When working in an allotment space, everything is to a much bigger scale and exits and entrances become very important especially when needing to move equipment and materials around the site. Just going to the toilet is a ten-minute hike! Being 250 square metres, it’s no postage stamp and so I have suggested that once the plot is cleared, that each volunteer is allocated a portion to be able to devote their attention to it and nurture their choice of fruit and vegetables to grow.

We had terrific weather today and the sun shone on us in Ilford, but if it’s not so good next week, I fear we may get deterred from plot clearing and stay indoors to fondle our seed and bulb catalogues instead. Which is a very exciting prospect, but one that can wait certainly for the next few months whilst we clear and dig and get the soil as we want it. I was very happy to discover that it’s not predominantly clay and looks and feels very workable, well that’s the part that’s been discovered so far, let’s see what happens further on down the plot. Time will tell.

I am really looking forward to meeting the other Allotmenteers and listening to and sharing tips and horticultural anecdotes, of which I’m sure there will be many. But what I am really looking forward to the most, is seeing the faces of the volunteers when they have growing fruit and vegetables in their hands and when the day comes for first harvesting and eating and celebrating all that they have achieved.


More next week. Happy gardening!