The good life

Although the garden might be dying down, now is actually a good time to think about what you’ll be sowing and planting for next year says Tim Sykes of Gardenproud. Here he discusses the benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables – especially if you can get access to a much coveted allotment…

I was intrigued to read recently in the Financial Times about the virtues of having your own allotment.

For those of us who aspire to grow our own vegetables and fruit, but don’t have the space at home it’s certainly an attractive option.

But beware of its popularity, and be prepared to join a waiting list. In Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding villages there are a whole plethora of allotments with plots that locals visit and nurture their produce. Some are owned by Parish Councils, whilst others by the Local Authority.

Organisations like Hawkenbury Allotments (HA)have formed their own Association and membership scheme that not only provides excellent facilities, but a supportive framework for allotment holders.

I was lucky enough to meet recently with Janet Sturgess, the chair at Hawkenbury Allotments Holders Association (HA HA), where she very kindly took me on a tour of her 300, or so plots!

HA HA has a constant waiting list, but it’s not surprising. It is an association well-run by volunteers and includes a shop, car parking facilities and neatly maintained borders among the myriad of allotments, all with their own unique characters which flourish on the site.

It was interesting to hear about the motivations of members to join and rent a plot. This varies from young families wanting to involve their children in a healthy family pursuit, to older retired couples who have downsized and see their plot as an extension of their garden. A place where they can escape to, and enjoy the exercise and fresh produce they can create.

Navigating the plots it was noticeable how different gardeners use their allotment in different ways. From neatly arranged raised beds with focused production of fruit and vegetables, to cuttings gardens creating stunning displays of gladioli and dahlias, to quiet spaces transformed into beautiful cottage gardens.

Greenhouses sit on many plots, especially those that are devoted to growing edible crops, or flower production. Whilst colourfully painted sheds sit among flowers, shrubs and fruit trees on others.

To help those less agile, Hawkenbury Allotments Holders Association have created an area of the allotments given over to ‘The Standing Gardener’. These are ingeniously designed raised beds that are long and thin making it easy for gardeners to reach and tend their gardens without having to bend over, or crouch down. Absolutely brilliant!

Apart from the obvious benefits to your mental and physical wellbeing of being outdoors and growing your own fresh food, Janet was keen to point out how the social fabric and interaction with your close (plot neighbours) forges new friendships and can be very supportive. She talked with some fondness of the various social gatherings and a spot among the plots that had been dedicated to parties and barbecues and events that all helped bring people together and share their common interest.

This sentiment was echoed by John Aglionby, FT newsroom editor and columnist who not only talked about all the new friendships he and his family have created from their regular visits (very often people who in the normal course of events they may never have met) but also how the allotment had become a magnet for their friends and relatives who often helped (sometimes induced by a glass of wine) to get stuck in, enjoy the fun and help tend the plot.

Elsewhere Adam Hunt, award-winning garden designer of Urquhart & Hunt said in a recent Homes and Garden article: “I genuinely feel that eating home-grown food is one of the most positive things you can do for the environment and for you and your family’s wellbeing, be it from your own garden, your balcony or, if you are lucky enough to have one, your allotment.”

So, there you go. If a kitchen garden is something you always wanted but you just can’t dedicate the space then an allotment could be just the answer.

I have compiled a list so you are welcome to contact me via my email and I will gladly send this to you, but otherwise you can contact or call the parks team on 01892 554031 and they should be able to point you in the right direction. A good source of information is also your local parish council office and parish magazines that you can obtain locally.

For further information about HA HA – Hawkenbury Allotments Holders Association then check out their website at or contact them via email at

For any other garden design or planting advice contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820.

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