On this episode of Digging in with gardenstead, Katie chats with UK gardener and rising IG star Hannah Reid (@gingergrows1) about allotment gardening and the joys of gardening with others, in community.
What is an allotment garden?
Allotment gardens, also known as community gardens in the US and Canada, are community spaces in which a gardener can pay a fee to join or lease a plot of land for a given length of time (usually a year) to grow food and flowers. In the UK, the keeping of hens and rabbits is also permitted on allotments, and is considered a right, but this legality varies from region to region in the US and Canada.
Allotment lots vary in size and shape. In the UK, for example, a 10’ x 10’ plot is the ‘starter’ size recommended for new gardeners or new-to-allotment gardening growers. Allotment gardening is becoming increasingly popular around the world, as more and more city dwellers seek space in which to grow. As Hannah points out in the episode, while there can be waitlists in some areas, it’s still possible to get into the garden — she got her allotment key after only a three day wait.
Community gardening in our neighbourhood
In gardenstead’s home city of Toronto, there are both allotment gardens and community gardens.
Toronto’s allotment garden program works much in the same way as its done in the UK, with yearly leases offered to gardeners (also generally with a waitlist for spots). It’s run by our local municipality (the City of Toronto).
On the other hand, in Toronto, community gardens are green spaces that have been made into gardens by local community groups.
Toronto’s community gardens may be tended to communally, with everyone involved in the work and the harvest collectively shared. Other gardens are parsed out into individual plots, with each gardener having their own plot of land to grow in.
To get a sense of the varied ways that community gardens are run, the Toronto Urban Growers’ map offers an intriguing glimpse. The map shows the different kinds of urban agriculture projects currently operating in the city and surrounding area.
The benefits of allotment and community gardening
Of course, gardening itself offers a host of benefits — exercise, being outside in nature, benefits to mental health, growing and caring for plants. Added to those, community gardening provides social connection, educational opportunities for youngsters, and the shared joys of land stewardship.
Plus, many community gardens give or sell at low cost the produce they grow to local food banks or other community organizations that help those in need. From an environmental standpoint, community gardens filter rainwater, absorb carbon dioxide, improve local soil health, feed pollinators and can ease urban heat island effects.
Five more thoughts about community gardening
One: Shilo Field, a large community garden in Texas has grown over 340,000 pounds of produce in its 13 years, much of which was given to families in need in their community
Two: If there isn’t a community garden in your area but you’d really like to find some land to garden in, check out the Shared Earth program. It “connects people who have land with people who want to garden or farm”. There are more than 40 million acres of unproductive land in backyards and commercial properties in the US alone!
Three: According to the Trust for Public Land, there are more than 29,000 community garden plots in city parks in the in the 100 largest U.S. cities. is there one in a park near you?
Four: Does your condo or apartment building have a rooftop that could host a community garden? Here’s a guide that could help you!
Five: How important are community gardens? Very important. Even the World Economic Forum is weighing in on how community gardening supports biodiversity, boosts mental and physical health and has a significant positive effect on local ecosystems.
- Hannah Reid is known as @gingergrows1 on Instagram
- We first collaborated with Hannah on How to preserve root vegetables and How to grow microgreens
- Hannah explains how allotment gardening works in England: you lease your allotment garden from the local council, and the plot is yours alone (although you can share it with others if you wish)
- Hannah’s allotment is a ‘full plot’ at 28 m x 10 m (approx. 92’ x 33’), for which she pays a yearly fee
- Allotment gardening has provided great relationships to Hannah, with shared food, recipes, preserves and an end-of-year bbq gathering
- Katie mentions that Toronto has a mix of allotment gardens and community gardens, with (in 2023) 12 outdoor allotment gardens and one indoor allotment garden, and 72 community gardens
- Hannah was a houseplant gardener before she started growing outdoors — after trying to grow vegetables and other produce indoors, she realized she needed more space to grow and applied for an allotment
- normally there’s quite a long waitlist for allotments in the UK, but Hannah got hers almost immediately
- Hannah started growing in March 2019, and the most challenging moment that she’s faced in her gardening was the summer of 2022 during a lengthy hot period for three weeks, creating a significant drought for much of England
- Hannah’s favourite things to grow are tomatoes, chiles, squash, courgettes, potatoes
- Like most gardeners, Hannah wishes she had more space (even though she has a second allotment space at her workplace, plus a front and backyard garden)
- With a degree in plant sciences, and a day job growing microgreens, Hannah found that there was still a lot to learn from her fellow growers and their experience
- There’s a real community aspect in Hannah’s allotment, in which they all share the fruits of their labours
- Hannah started her Instagram page to document her gardening efforts and ended up connecting with allotment gardeners from around the world
- Next up for Hannah is large-scale polytunnel gardening
- Throughout the winter, she’s still growing: onions, garlic, leeks, kale
- Katie issues an invite to connect with the gardenstead community
Share your garden story
If you’re an allotment or community garden gardener, we’d love to hear your story. Here’s what we’re looking for:
- a short write-up of the story of your garden (how you got started, how it’s going, etc.)
- A 45 second reel and/or photo series to pair with your story
- your name, social media handle, and location
Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll publish it on our Instagram page!