The Shared Garden

Its a growing concern for 12 families who have taken over four allotments with the emphasis on organic food

In the Seventies, it was TVs Tom and Barbara Good searching for the self-sufficient Good Life. Thirty years on, eco-friendly families who want to grow their own organic fruit and veg are fighting the good fight for real. Trouble is, it takes time and hard work. But it can also be fun and very rewarding. Liz Cartwright went down to the allotments to take a look.

The spinach is coming along nicely on allotment three so is the kohlrabi. Allotment two is also looking good, especially with the sun glinting through the line of fruit trees on this sunny spring morning.

Pats got a bad back but doing her best with the bindweed on allotment four and Karina shes down here every day and seems to thrive on the fresh air and hard work.

Karina Wells is the Mrs Motivator who spearheaded the Shared Garden project in which 12 families in West Bridgford joined together to cultivate four allotments.

Each pledged to spend two hours a week on the plots, using organic and biodynamic techniques and the plan is that the allotments will feed all the families.

When members join up, no previous experience is required. They can be green fingered or total beginners. "Everyone started off as total beginners, apart from a few," said Karina. "I started five years ago when I asked the landlord of the house opposite, which had been turned into flats, if I could use the garden for a vegetable patch. "I offered to hoover his house if he would let me use the garden and he agreed."

The notice board in the shed on allotment two has written instructions telling members what needs to be done every day.

"This can vary from digging an area, weeding, sowing, transplanting, taking rubbish to the tip or building compost bins," said Karina.

"Growing your own fruit and vegetables is satisfying, good for you and good for the environment as it reduces the distance your food is transported. But many people either dont have the space to do it or dont have the time to commit. Sharing an allotment seems to be the answer for many busy families nowadays."

The scheme, she says, has many advantages socially, economically and environmentally.

It has won an award from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

When trust members went along to take a look at the scheme for themselves, they were thrilled to see a fox and a green woodpecker on the suburban allotments which are sandwiched between two main roads.

Karina also marvels at the wildlife. "To get people interested in their surroundings, we asked people to write down in the groups diary what wildlife they had seen that day," she said. "Apart from the usual, they spotted a woodpecker, bullfinches, wrens, goldfinches, thrushes, a kestrel and many frogs and toads."

The families who are part of the project enjoy it because the enjoy working together and share their knowledge, skills and equipment. They also split the running costs of the allotments and the workload.

Karina has become well known in West Bridgford, being heavily involved in green issues and having set up Ecoteams, a project where residents in a given street have their waste, electricity, water, gas and shopping monitored over six months.

As part of Ecoteams, Karina wanted to promote organic food but people constantly told her organic food was expensive and the quality of the produce wasnt always brilliant.

"We had a skill exchange, Ecoteams, and wanted to bring in the community. This is the combination of it all it evolved," she said.

Karina is an inspiring woman who works tirelessly for green issues.

The garden scheme was launched in October and each of the four plots, measuring around 400 to 500 sq yards, is different.

Allotment one was designed to be high-yielding from the start and has an experimental permaculture bed. There are also borders made from woven brambles and perennial beds. This allotment could be known as the most cosmopolitan in Notts. Seeds from Ecuador are planted here the quinoa. "Its a grain and rather like sweetcorn," explained Karina. "Its very nutritious."

There are soft-leaf lettuces and icebergs from Polish seeds and Karinas Dutch seeds for red lettuces, peas and sugar snaps, onions and web lettuces. There is garlic and strawberries, spinach and potatoes.

Allotment two is the "fun" one childrens play area, grassy area for ball games and a flower bed.

There is a resident blackbird they call Bruce. The families plan to make lots of juices from the fruit trees, apples, pears, plums and blackberries.

Allotment three was recently acquired. Here there are cardoons, broad beans, mixed lettuces, French beans, red cabbages, leafless peas.

"The idea is to grow for the group," said Karina. "I will be really pleased if we can feed them for the year."

There are bottomless bell jars bringing a few things on, as well as radishes, raspberries and even a fig tree.

"There are four families per allotment. They look after their own but also help out other people if needs be," said Karina. "People are teamed up. There tends to be two or three people so that its fun. If there is someone going with you, then its an incentive."

"Karina does 60 times as much as everyone else," says Pat, trowel n hand and sitting on a pile of earth on allotment four, which is mainly for fruit.

Here there is a "no dig" area, which may sound great but is not as simple nor as easy as it sounds.

The area will be a sandwich of may layers including cardboard, manure and soil and, fingers crossed, will grow mainly pumpkins and courgettes.

"Where you want to plant, you make a little hole in it and fill it with soil and thats it," said Karina. "You let the worms do everything for you," she said. "And it has to be totally covered to stop the weeds."

By the end of next year, allotment four will be heaving with fruit. Karina is hoping for grants from Shell Better Britain to help with other projects.

Each allotment costs £21-a-year in rent and the members make a donation which covers the rent and the cost of the organic seeds.

"You go through the money at such speed," said Karina. "If you want decent quality food, then you have to spend money on good seeds, organic seeds."

The allotments are fertilised with compost produced by the families and manure from locally-kept chickens, goats and pigeons.

They are hoping to start compost collection, too. This way, they will have enough materials to make more good-quality compost and help the neighbours reduce their household waste and the amount which is thrown into landfill sites.

Its not all work. The members have had a bonfire night with fireworks and in the summer months people bring their children to play after school while they go about their work.

There is a great atmosphere on the allotments and everyone seems to be having a nice time while hoping for a bumper harvest.

What Karina and the members really want is for their idea to take off in other areas.

"My hope is within towns everywhere you look, there are areas, little bits of land tucked away which could be turned into useful bits of land through people getting together and working together. The land doesnt have to be really big it could be attached back gardens. This project in West Bridgford shows that its possible."

Karinas own allotment is a mass of colour and neat rows of seedlings along with some of her precious Dutch tulips. She has a pond with frogs and theres a hedgehog which has set up home. He sorts out the slug problem.

The Shared Garden Project is a real community effort and a triumph for Karina and the members.

The wider community also benefits. Thy can go along to workshops, such as the one for "willow weaving" using the cut down brambles instead of willow to make the fence around the planting beds.

The next workshop will be on effective micro-organism compost-making from Japan which is a new way of turning kitchen scraps speedily into valuable compost.

Published in the Nottingham Evening Post, Tuesday May 22, 2001.
Reproduced here with permission of the publishers. Visit their web site at

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