Environ-Mental Gardening

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The picture above shows Milan on his allotment. Within walking distance of Dewsbury Road, he grows spinach, rhubarb, potatoes, sprouts, cabbage, apples, pears, cherries, sunflower seeds (for the birds), cardoon (a Malaysian ornamental flower). I went there with him a few weeks ago, and asked him about it.

He told me about growing up on Spencer Place in the heart of Chapeltown, and being encouraged to garden by a neighbour. Now he reckons his allotment gives him the chance to get away from noisy neighbours, and in the warm weather he’s been coming here to:

‘soak up the sunset, exercise, breathe deeply and enjoy the company of generous, sharing gardening neighbours’

– who are ‘fellows in that vocational hobby’, and share their seeds and manure (well, not their manure). Milan is a practitioner of Buddhism, and it’s easy to see how this influences his gardening. He says his allotment is

‘therapeutic, good for anxiety and a good kind of contemplation or introspection. I call it environ-mental gardening. I use a fork rather than a spade so I don’t kill things. I get fresh food but it’s not just about gardening. I think you should always try something new and be unpredictable against your own habits. There is only the moment, the past is history and all barriers are bridges’.

So having an allotment will not only help feed your mind and body, but could also shave a few lifetimes off your journey to enlightenment. Could it be fun too?

Over the past year or so I’ve very much enjoyed reading the blog of the Reluctant Gardener by local writer Mandy Sutter. Mandy is well known in Leeds writing circles and she’ll be reading from her first novel Stretching It at Waterstones on 25th September. Her gardening blog is very funny and chronicles the writer trying to help her dad with his allotment. If you want a good laugh and a slightly surreal low down on the inner life of having an allotment have a look at it.

So how do you go about getting an allotment?

I spoke to Judy Turley, the Secretary of Leeds & District Allotment Gardeners Federation, ‘the voice for allotment and leisure gardeners in the greater Leeds area’. see their website at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/

Judy shared Milan’s enthusiasm for allotment gardening. She said:

‘having an allotment is just fabulous – it gets you away from the rat race, and it’s an oasis in the middle of a busy city’.

There are 97 allotment sites in and around Leeds, and you can find out about a site near you at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/index.php/members or through the council’s Parks and Countryside Department by ringing 0113 3367427. The waiting times vary considerably – you might wait for several years in some areas, and get one next week in others, according to Judy. The cost for 2012/13 is £37 per annum for a full plot, or £18.50 for a half plot.

However, according to Milan, there are other options – if you know someone who can’t manage their own garden,  you could ask them could you share the produce, whether flowers, fruit or vegetables, for doing the tillage, with them, or if they are too old or disabled, for them.

Landshare is a way to share land, someone has land they can’t manage; someone needs some, and the usage and terms are negotiated between the two.”

In Leeds Urban Harvest also organises volunteers to pick fruit, give tree owners a share and distribute the rest to community groups in Leeds. This is just the right time of year to get involved. They’ve teamed up this season with All Hallows in Burley, and “now have a great kitchen for juicing, space for sharing and lots of friendly faces too.”

Finally, Milan made an offer you surely can’t refuse if you like cherries:

“If anyone wants any Cherry Trees, your standard Morello variety, with large purple black shiny fruits, then please call me 0772 2301 002, after 6pm is best, then we can arrange a visit to Parkside Allotment. All I ask in return is a donation, however small or large, to Leeds Buddhist Centre. I will pass on the cash, and get you a receipt if you leave your email address.”

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