Student plants out circular allotment in grounds of college

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FOR those studying fine art, the tools of the trade don't usually include gardening equipment.

But for Helen Johnson, her latest work requires just that.

The 40-year-old has created a blooming allotment in the quadrangle at Edinburgh College of Art, as part of the final year of her Masters Degree in fine art, in which she specialises in tapestry.

And the produce from the allotment, which will include spinach and leeks, as well as a selection of other winter vegetables, will feed students in the college canteen.

Ms Johnson said she was inspired by 1950s conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, who was born in Krefeld, north-western Germany, and believed that everyone was an artist.

She hopes her allotment will be a celebration of gardeners and chefs as artists.

She said: "I love the allotment. It was quite a natural idea, and then I got told by the course leader to be ambitious, so I went to speak to the secretary of the college with the idea, and he said 'yes'.

"That's how it started. It's a beautiful allotment. It's circular with an 18ft diameter and has three circular raised beds, one inside the other. It's right outside the canteen, which is lovely because you can see it from the canteen."

Ms Johnson has been receiving expert advice from Ted Thompson, a freelance gardener for over 15 years.

Ms Johnson, who lives in Greenlaw, started evening classes in sculpture at the college ten years ago. She then progressed to a part-time degree in combined studies, before moving to a full-time undergraduate course, graduating with a BA (Hons) in tapestry last year.

She is already planning her final project for her MA – weaving sea kelp.

Last year, the mother-of-three ran a project called "woven energy", which saw school- children place threads of fabric and weave through Edinburgh's streets, emulating a piece of moving thread.

In June this year, Ms Johnson restored the college's defunct greenhouse and started "Helen's Herbs".

She served a daily platter of mung beans, herbs and salad leaves in the college canteen, and became a registered supplier of foods to the canteen.

The allotment project is also a development of Helen's Herbs.

Earlier this month the Scottish Government ordered public bodies to search for extra land that could be made available for public allotments.

The move was announced by Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, who said waiting lists had increased to almost 3000 people in recent years.

Ms Johnson welcomed the move and said: "I feel there is space for allotments. The space is maybe just not used to its full potential."

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council said: "There are 1268 allotment sites controlled by the council. There are currently 1500 people on the waiting list – a year ago it was approximately 1200.

"The cost per year is about 48. There are approximately 365 applications a year and the waiting list is seven years.

"We are actively seeking new plots at the moment."

Ms Johnson is scheduled to graduate in June 2009, with the allotment planned for harvest in spring next year.

A spokeswoman for the college confirmed that it was expected that the allotment would be removed following Ms Johnson's graduation.

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