The Allotment At Covent Garden

Posted on: 21 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Michael Wale goes to Covent Garden and meets the public who want Boris to change London.

Covent Garden has installed an allotment for a few weeks, and I am pleased to say that it is really well done.  It adds to the owners outwardly ‘green’ credentials for a moment no doubt, armed as he is by one of the most powerful public relations organizations in the world.

I’m not being cynical but that is how running allotments in London makes you. After all the late ungreat Mayor Livingstone labeled himself as ‘green’, and a newt-lover, but in the end I gather he was trying to imitate these creatures in another way!

As for being Green, he killed off a 100 year old allotment in Hackney in the name of his so-called Green Olympics, which he now says he never really wanted for sporting reasons but to fund the re-building of East London. There endeth that historic lesson.

So onto the stage comes Boris. I voted for him, and his deputy Kit Malthouse. I had met Boris when he and the other three would be mayors spoke about their environmental policies. He told me, of course, that he really was for allotments. It should be pointed out that under a previous Parliamentary Act in 1950, allotments are protected, even if they are not in actuality in any borough of London.

Yet it was here that Churchill urged his Second World War campaign Dig For Victory. Politicians will do anything for anybody when they need you. Their worth has never been lower than today.

Boris, before his election, produced a 3,000 word environmental document, but there was not one mention of the word ‘allotment’. Yet he represents Henley-on-Thames, where there are some absolutely wonderful allotments to the left of Remenham Hill on the way into town.

I have just sent him a full statement of my own policy for the environment in London. It is not only for allotments, but a belief in the American and Japanese idea of Community Supported Agriculture, which is not just for individuals but for everyone in the community. You get hold of a piece of land, and either the locals farm it and eat the food off it, or you bring in a professional grower and they work the land and the locals pay so much a month to eat the produce.

It is a thing of the future in England, and there is a massive grant available for work on it. So, although I do not veer away from my love for allotments; as I wrote to Boris, they must be protected, but there is an even bigger future. Will he listen? Will he reply? I will keep you posted.
Back to the splendid allotment in Covent Garden which I was asked to spend an hour of my Sunday afternoon speaking to those who might be interested on the topic of allotments.  And many were, especially Americans over here on holiday, who told me how keen they were on gardening. Those from New York, like Londoners did not have much space, but that did not stop the growing in tubs and the like. It is amazing what inner city folk are producing in the tiniest of spaces. And as I urged, you can grow herbs anywhere.

I was hired to read from my book, View From A Shed, but in fact no-one on a Sunday afternoon in Covent Garden would have stopped to listen to a reading. They bought the book, but all they wanted was advice.

A fellow member of my own Acton Gardening association Valentine Lowe has just written a paperback about being a beginner on an allotment.  He is a good chap and the column, One Man and his Dig comes out of his tiny weekly spot for London’s only evening paper, the Evening Standard, although he is moving to The Times.

When we spoke he did confirm my own feelings that all is not always friendship on an allotment, there are rows galore. 

“Guerilla gardening might be good for the allotment cause,” Valentine tells me.  “We had a spare space next to me for eight years. It is now being developed but it could have grown all sorts of things. I love allotments and what they have done for me, and the food I now eat.” 

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