Gardens: Pollokshiels allotments full of pride, passion and produce

In the shed at the back of Fiona Sutherland's flower and vegetable filled allotment a bowl of purple sweet peas sits on a table covered with a checked cloth.

In the background begonias and fuchsias are displayed on a makeshift set of shelves beside a large wooden trough filled with tomato plants. Basil and deep red geranium jostle for position among tools, tins of seed and stacks of empty pots while a gold ormolu clock perches precariously on a shelf of gardening books. A glorious, heart-warming sight, this is typical of the world of allotments where recycling, self-sufficiency, makeshift solutions and hard work combine with a sense of community and sharing to make these sites among the most special places in our busy cities.

We are at the New Victoria Garden Allotments on Glenapp Street in Pollokshiels, a one hectare site, reputedly the oldest of 24 allotment sites in Glasgow. Established in 1871, when Pollokshiels was being developed, the site remains true to its original purpose of providing space for local tenement dwellers to grow their own vegetables and flowers.

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In private ownership until the 1970s when it was purchased by the council, the site now contains 60 numbered allotments, a few of which are divided in half. Further sub-divided, Plot 8 is reserved as a taster site to allow new allotment holders to sample the joys of vegetable growing while waiting for a plot of their own. The central green is left open as a play area and for general use, especially on allotment open days.

Divided by parallel paths running between hedges with allotments on either side, the site has a country feel reinforced by a quirky assortment of huts, sheds, brick paths and metal and wooden gates. A range of different gardening styles characterises the rose and honeysuckle arches, rows and rows of neatly tended vegetables combined with brightly coloured annuals.

Some plots are tightly packed with campanula, alchemilla, dahlias, pansies and herbs slotted in every available spot, while others, like Fiona's, are light and airy with scented lavender and roses.

When Fiona was granted her first allotment in the mid-80s she was the first woman permitted to tend an allotment in her own right, although women did garden under the auspices of their husbands. Her first plot was "a wild plot" and she had to prove herself before being promoted to a better one. Now, having moved six times - "I'm a bit of a gypsy" - she is happily established a stone's throw from the communal hall. A disability prevents her from getting overly ambitious with her planting, but she makes thoughtful growing decisions.

She says, "I grow things that are difficult or expensive to buy in shops, such as Pink Fir Apple potatoes, peas and beans, container grown strawberries and cut and come again lettuces - much easier to grow in containers, where they don't get splashed in the rain." She also makes room in two wooden-edged beds for her nieces to plant their own seeds. "My partner built the shed and helps a lot. He's not a gardener but I would have to give up without his support. He knows how much it means to me."

She is not alone. On the other side of the site, Malaysian-born Eve Tucker is equally dedicated to her plot. Resplendent in a pink straw hat, she says: "I don't know how I would survive without it." A mother and grandmother, Eve says she has spent 25 years gardening away all "my ill health, anger and a series of bereavements," including the loss of her husband 11 years ago. A jumble of bright orange lilies, deep blue campanula, red nicotiana set against a foreground of vegetables is the result, produced following just one bit of advice. "Lots of people came round to give me advice when I started," she said, "But one wise man said, 'Listen to them all but at the end of the day you do what is right for you and learn by your mistakes.' "

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Recently promoted from a taster plot to a half plot, Evelyn Dyer, a keen gardener who waited three years before getting a foot in the wooden door at New Victoria Allotments says she "was desperate" to get started. Now growing a striking mix of produce including a healthy looking patch of corn on the cob and ornamental flowers, she says part of the fun is making new friends. Her neighbour Maureen Doherty moved from a quarter plot to a half plot, before graduating to a full size one. She says, "It was very weedy but luckily I got it at the back end of the summer and I had the winter to get things into shape." She has now added a neat square pond and enjoys watching the wildlife, including, this spring, a blackbird that flew down from its nest under the eves of a nearby shed to catch newts to feed its chicks. Maureen, who like many here, visits her plot daily says, "To be on top of things you need to be consistent and it then becomes more rewarding. If things become a chore there is no fun it in."

Further along, Norman Smith, whose lush, colourful eye-catching plot is festooned with hanging baskets packed with petunias, delphiniums and roses is cycling home for lunch with a bag packed with sweet peas, a punnet of raspberries and some lettuce. Laid out in a traditional style with a central flag stone path flanked with beds on either side, his immaculately tidy, tightly packed plot frequently features among the prize winners awarded one of the silver trophies presented annually on open day. With the oldest cup dating from 1923, although names were not recorded during the war years, these hotly contested, prestigious prizes are part of the tradition of this exciting and historic allotment site.

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Visit New Victoria Garden Allotments, Glenapp Street, Pollockshiels, G41 2NQ for its open day today, 2pm to 5pm. The flower show will be in the communal hall and there will be plant and produce stalls on the central lawn. Prizes are also awarded in children's categories. For more information contact:

Allotments Officer, Glasgow City Council, Land and Environmental Services, 231 George Street, Glasgow, G1 1RX or tel: 0141-287 5729.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, 21 August, 2010


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