With marigolds and poppies blooming and even sunflowers standing tall against the grey sky, Portsmouth Community Allotment is in fine form.
But it should be looking good. Over the past decade, an estimated 4,000 people have carefully tended the plants at the special site.
This little piece of the countryside in the city has benefited the elderly, young, vulnerable and disabled and in turn they have made it grow.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Portsmouth Community Allotment gives residents the chance to learn skills and benefit from gardening therapy.
‘We tend to focus on the more vulnerable members of the community, particularly people who wouldn’t be able to garden any other way,’ says Portsmouth City Council community development officer Tony Keen, who runs the site.
‘We also have volunteers, but actually everyone becomes a volunteer because they are helping.’
If one visitor stands out for Tony over the past 10 years, it’s 97-year-old Dorothy who became a regular at the allotment with the rest of a care home group.
‘When people arrive we ask them what they want to grow. She had become very depressed and said she didn’t want to do anything. She couldn’t see the point because she didn’t think she was going to live that long’ recalls Tony.
‘By the next year she wanted flowers and tomatoes and was making plans for the next two or three years.’
Gardening is great for the mind and body and that’s what makes the community allotment so important.
‘It gives people a bit of hope,’ says Tony, sitting under a pergola in this pretty corner of Portsmouth.
‘Some people become very isolated and it gives them that social connection.’
News gardening expert Brian Kidd has visited the allotment and was extremely impressed. And he says that people, whatever their situation, shouldn’t underestimate the power of the plot.
‘Allotments are a great leveller of people. No matter what their background and situation in life they are all the same there.
‘Plots are becoming very popular with families, people are starting to treat the shed like a beach hut but in a countryside setting.
‘That’s great news because gardening is particularly lovely for children. ‘
Brian adds: ‘It’s also extremely therapeutic. It’s certainly helped me several times in my life.’
The site of four plots at Milton Piece Allotments has fully disabled access and facilities, a shed and pod for tea breaks and planning.
The community space is available for all Portsmouth residents, says Tony.
‘People who are on the allotment waiting list come here for a bit of practice, or some people just want advice.’
The scheme, funded externally by organisations like the National Lottery, was initially set up to deal with the obesity problem and volunteers still take home fresh fruit and veg.
Over the past 10 years it has continued to promote activity and give access to healthy, tasty food.
Today it’s fairly quiet. There is just Tony, some dedicated part-time workers and volunteers Ben Harrison, 29, and Michael Andrews, 42.
They have been coming to the allotment for five years. Ben has been looking for a job for a long time, so for him it’s great to be part of a team.
Recently the allotment played host to more than 100 schoolchildren.
‘They were very well-behaved,’ says Tony.
‘It’s quite easy to keep people occupied here. They did a treasure hunt, bug hunt and some planting.’
There’s no shortage of participants, but the small team from the council still have to work extremely hard to keep the project running.
‘But everyone loves it here, we’ve created a really lovely environment,’ says Tony.
‘The biggest problem is getting people to go home.’
The 10th anniversary of Portsmouth Community Allotment is being celebrated with an open day.
Visitors can find out what happens at the site, see an arts and crafts display and watch gardening and cookery demonstrations.
The event takes place on September 2, the day of the annual show at Milton Piece Allotments in Locksway Road.
The show begins at 1pm, but Portsmouth Community Allotment will start its event at 11am.
The community allotment team is based at Portsmouth City Council. The scheme was established with money from the Health Action Zone and since then has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Healthy Towns.
The team welcomes enquiries from people willing to volunteer and groups interested in using the site.
Work is supervised during the week but there are also weekend volunteers who pop in to water the plants and tend to the site.
Anyone who is interested in attending or would like to volunteer should call Tony Keen on (023) 9268 8388 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
For information visit hids.org.uk/community/allotment