Village allotment that just grew and grew

JPNS AGENDA ALLOTMENTS REP: ST''CAPTION: Wickham Allotment Association group shot
JPNS AGENDA ALLOTMENTS REP: ST''CAPTION: Wickham Allotment Association group shot

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Tucked well away from the main road in what is already a sleepy rural village, a group of locals have banded together to create their own secret garden.

Thirty-four like-minded families and individuals now have plots in their own allotment site at Wickham after becoming frustrated with waiting lists of up to five years for council-owned plots.

Two years ago, keen gardener Ed Piercy-Jones put up posters around the village asking for anyone who had a site that could be used for allotments to contact him.

Ed had moved to the village five years ago, but his own back garden was too small to grow vegetables and keep poultry.

Within weeks of putting up the posters, Ed had been contacted by 35 people interested in joining his project.

And then, out of the blue, he received the call that answered his prayers – from the Franciscan nuns based at nearby Park Place Pastoral Centre, who offered him an acre of land.

The centre is run by the nuns as a pastoral and spiritual retreat for people of all faiths.

When he first visited the centre, the field was overgrown – but Ed immediately saw what it could be and the Wickham Allotment Association was born.

The 46-year-old butcher says: ‘The land had been used for horses, cows and pigs in the past but had been fallow for three or four years.

‘It was overgrown with grass that came up to my waist but I could see the potential.’

Ed agreed to rent the land at £1,000 a year, which Park Place agreed to have ploughed to provide the fledgling association with a blank canvas.

Together with his new prospective band of allotment-holders, Ed took a rope and measuring wheel and divided the field into an assortment of plots.

‘A normal council plot measuring 253 square metres would have been too big for some villagers who wanted smaller, manageable patches of land to grow enough veg for their families,’ says Ed. ‘Our full-sized plots measured 10 metres by 12 metres which we halved so there were enough to go round.’

But now, thanks to the hard work of those who have taken on plots it is now bursting with giant pumpkins, ripe tomatoes, courgettes and runner beans snaking through land next to the Grade-II listed Georgian manor house.

‘It is like a secret garden which few people outside the village know about,’ explains the father-of-six.

‘The allotment has been a huge success.

‘We have a real mix of people growing their own fruit and vegetables, from an 86-year-old lady and a solicitor to young families in the village who just want a ready supply of home-grown food.

He adds: ‘They’re discovering that home-grown veg is healthier, saves them money and more importantly it gets them out of the house and into the fresh air.’

‘Our association is thriving and I am delighted that so many people are growing their own produce.’

Any surplus fruit and veg, and eggs from the free-range hens on the allotment are left in boxes for the Franciscan Sisters as a goodwill gesture.

Several people have also been in touch with Ed after the project was mentioned on TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s website as part of the celebrity cook’s land share scheme.

And it has proved such a runaway success that Ed has been invited to speak at the second Edible Garden Show at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, next March, to give tips to others on how to plant the seeds of a community allotment and bring it to fruition.

The show, the first national event dedicated to the grow-your-own phenomenon was launched in March this year.

The event takes place at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on March 16 to 18.

For more information visit theediblegardenshow.co.uk

For more about the allotment association go to wickhamaa.co.uk

n Don’t miss Green Fingers, our gardening page featuring advice from expert Brian Kidd, every Saturday in The News.