Jenny Mollison: Remember gardeners when plotting new towns

Aerial photograph of Letchworth Garden City
Aerial photograph of Letchworth Garden City
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ASPIRING allotment plotters have been chasing after possible sites in St Monans, Fife, for more than ten years.

They are now a big step nearer getting some ground as a site has been earmarked as part of some new housing. I’m hoping that progress is swift enough so that they can get growing next season. I’m also hoping that some of those who wanted an allotment years ago are still keen to take one on. Fife Council has a good reputation for providing allotments, but St Monans has proved one of the more difficult areas in which to home in on an acceptable site.

A hundred years ago, Ebenezer Howard saw the importance of allotments in his blueprint for Garden Cities in England. He described a Garden City as a place designed for industry and healthy living surrounded by a permanent belt of rural land. Howard believed that by taking the best elements of the town, such as jobs and infrastructure, and the best elements of the countryside, such as fresh air and access to nature, it would be possible to achieve a better quality of life and social justice for all. Letchworth in Hertfordshire was the original Garden City envisaged by Howard. His plans included an allotment site. I discovered that although the original population of Letchworth has not increased much, it now boasts five sites. Patrick Geddes was responsible for much of the thinking behind plans for Scotland’s New Towns.

Ease of access to an allotment is one of the desirable features recognised by Howard. My own plot is less than five minutes’ walk from where I live. I know people who make a success of their allotment even though they have to travel a few miles but it must be more difficult for them, particularly in winter when night falls early and days are short. A few wet weekends in succession can disrupt the best plans for keeping on top of the gardening.

Ease of access is not the only prerequisite. Good soil is important. A lot can be done to improve soil over time with careful husbandry and mountains of compost. It can be disheartening for new plotholders to grapple with problems such as poor drainage and old tree stumps. Ploughing a new site makes an immediate difference but does nothing to diminish the prevalence of perennial weeds like docks.