Tower blocks loom in the distance, there’s a hum of traffic on the nearby A803, and from just behind a hedge comes the rumble of trains and the drone of the station announcer’s voice. But in spite of these occasional reminders, here at Springburn Allotments, watching a butterfly flit in the late summer sun and catching the scent of woodsmoke on the breeze, it’s easy to forget that we’re still in the middle of Glasgow.
This little oasis of agricultural activity is one of many allotment sites to be found throughout the city, and getting hold of your own personal patch of ground is more popular than ever. Perhaps it’s the recession, or perhaps it reflects an increasing desire to know more about where your food is coming from. Whatever the
reason, allotments are practically trendy these days.
For a group of students who’ve recently taken up leases, an allotment offers first and foremost an escape
from everyday city life. Among them, Sean Mullervy, a recent graduate of Glasgow University, explains how
he and his friends had been talking about getting an allotment for months — “about a year now, in fact, but
there’s quite a waiting list. We finally got our hands on one over the summer, but it’s only now that people
have come back to Glasgow for the new term that we’ve really got going on it.” Now, a group of graduates
and current students take care of two neighbouring plots, fitting in their share of the labour when they’re
not job-hunting, in class, or at part-time work.
The majority of allotments in Glasgow are owned and leased out by the council, and consist of a small
plot of land along with, in most cases, a little shed or outbuilding for storing equipment — “although,”
says Sean, “we’ve got big plans for our shed.” Even to an untrained eye (like mine), it’s obvious that this is
no small commitment to take on. In fact, looking at the heaps of soil and patches of weeds in front of me,
the task seems almost overwhelming. There are beds to be dug, soil to be sifted, brambles to be trained
and there’s even talk of planting fruit trees. Oh, and there’s that shed to redecorate. But it’s equally obvious
from looking at more established allotments that the rewards can be great.
We pause in admiration and envy for a few moments before one particularly beautiful plot, complete with
bench, greenhouse, neat rows of verdant vegetables and bowers of twining hollyhocks. But for the moment,
Sean’s group is sticking with somewhat more modest ambitions. “For starters, we’re hoping to plant spinach
and radishes,” he tell me, “and then to get a small herbgarden established. I’ll be happy with that!”
It’s unlikely that owning an allotment will provide significant amounts of home-grown food. In that sense, it’s not exactly a money-saving solution for students, even with yearly leases costing as little as £31. But then, owning an allotment is about far more than cutting your groceries bill — it’s a true labour of love. As I watch a second planting bed take shape, I can see that there’s a sense of satisfaction to be gained from working the land and seeing it bear fruit that few other activities can provide.