“Are you a gardener?,” project coordinator Viv Caisey asks me when I arrive at the community allotment run by the Brighton & Hove Organic Gardening Group (BHOGG). I’m not, I admit, but I’d like to be. “It’s no problem,” she continues. “I just don’t want to teach you how to suck eggs.” There’s no chance of that.
I like to think that I’d like to have an allotment, but I’m probably too busy to give it the attention it would need and, anyway, there’s a long waiting list for your own patch. So, the BHOGG plot at the Weald Allotment site in Hove is perfect for enthusiastic amateurs, like me. BHOGG is a not-for-profit community organisation run by volunteers who want to share their passion for organic gardening. They set up the community allotment in 2004 and open it to various community groups during the week, and to willing volunteers between 11am-1pm every Sunday during the growing season. They also offer starter plots for people who want to do their own thing, run a monthly urban gardening course at the Phoenix Community Centre and arrange regular meetings and events. It’s free to join them at the allotment for a few trial sessions, and then you sign up for a £10 annual membership, which gives you access to events like seedling swaps, talks and workshops.
The Weald Allotments cover a huge area next to Hove Park Upper School, just off the Old Shoreham Road, and the BHOGG have three adjacent plots. On my first visit, Viv shows me where I can find tools and gloves, gives me a quick lesson in identifying bindweed, and then sets me the task of weeding and digging over an empty, eight-foot-by-four veg bed. I’m soon joined by Eva, another first timer to the allotment, and we make a pretty good team, chatting as we go. By the time we stop to look around, there are a couple of dozen willing workers, toiling away.
The youngest is aged around two (and surprisingly helpful), and there are kids, and couples, and people in their 60s, sharing the tasks written up on the whiteboard. Together we pass an enjoyable and productive couple of hours.
As expected, life gets in the way, and I can’t make it back to the allotment for a couple of weeks. But, when I do, I’m greeted by familiar faces and new. The bed I weeded last time has been planted up, so I get busy elsewhere, digging in horse muck and planting up some squash and dwarf beans, safe in the knowledge that someone else will be along to keep them watered.
It’s surprisingly satisfying, this communal gardening: a real case of many hands making for light work. And, along with new friendships, I’m rewarded with a share of the spoils (fistfuls of organic celery, rhubarb, chard and broad beans) and the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years.
Find more voluntary gardening opportunities at bhfood.org.uk/directory-map