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Amateur gardeners inspired by TV being turfed off overgrown allotments


Television gardening programmes may appear to be among the most benign forms of light entertainment, but they have drawn the ire of gardening groups who say they make cultivating vegetables look too easy, and are to blame for thousands of allotment holders being evicted from their unkempt plots.

Many amateur gardeners have moved on to allotments as a hobby and to grow their own food as prices in shops reach record levels.

But many have done so without realising the sheer graft necessary to grow plants successfully, according to gardening experts. They say that novice gardeners are becoming down-heartened and are abandoning their plots to weeds and neglect.

With an estimated countrywide waiting list of 200,000 for plots, a record number of allotment holders this year have been asked to vacate their land, for leaving their soil unworked.

The surge has been blamed on the popularity of gardening shows — such as those hosted by Alan Titchmarsh and Monty Don.

Steve Johnson, an allotment representative at Beverley town council, in East Yorkshire, said: “People see these gardening programmes that make it look easy. It’s not like that. They get very depressed when they see the weeds and they abandon it.”

Reg Knowles, the chairman of The Allotments & Gardens Council, added: “Unfortunately people watch the gardening presenters on TV and don’t really see how they have a paid team working seven days a week on their plot. When they realise they have to do all the work themselves, it’s a lot and you have to be able to put the time in.

“People think allotments are easy to maintain but it’s been a bad year weather-wise and people have got disheartened and not bothered doing their plots.”

Di Appleyard, of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, said local authorities were under pressure due to lengthening waiting lists. “There have been more non-cultivation letters issued this year because of the weather and people taking allotments unaware of the work and skills involved,” she said.

In Brighton, 1,070 notices to quit have been issued in the past year, covering more than a third of the council’s plots. It is hoped that the crackdown will expedite the 13-year wait for the 2,855 plots.

Merton council in south-west London has issued 378 notices to quit, in respect of almost a third of its 1,364 plots.

Allotment holders with untended plots in Beverley have also been warned to “use them or lose them” in an attempt to improve an eight-year waiting list. Beverley Town council can evict allotment holders if they fail to keep their plot “clean and free from weeds and well manured and otherwise maintain it in a good state of cultivation”.

The average waiting time for a council allotment is about three years.

Last year, there were 86,787 people across Britain waiting for a council plot, according to freedom of information requests. It is believed the total number on waiting lists nationwide could be nearer 200,000 because the survey did not include another estimated 150,000 plots owned by parish and town councils, other public bodies or private allotment associations.

Mr Knowles, from The Allotments & Gardens Council, added: “You’ve got to be honest with people. The worst thing you can do it not tell them how much work it is. My honest opinion is that you need to be able to put in at least eight hours a week, over two or three stints.”

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