Jen Anderson managed to grow five “small but tasty” melons in Glasgow this summer, and she is not alone in finding her allotment a godsend during the pandemic. For the four years she has owned it, she says, it has “absolutely 100%” made her happier.
Her experience tallies with a study by academics at the University of Sheffield, published last week, which outlines the wellbeing benefits of allotment gardening. The 163 volunteers recorded “high levels of social and community activities, including the sharing of surplus food produce, knowledge exchange, awareness and interaction with wildlife, emotional connection to their allotment, appreciation of time spent outside and aesthetic delight in the natural world”.
According to Miriam Dobson, a post-doctoral research associate and one of the report’s authors, there was “quite a wide spectrum of mental health benefits”. People “were talking about community events, the nice feeling of sharing food, knowledge and skills”, as well as a “connection to seasons and a joy in weather”.
Anderson, a 35-year-old lecturer, attests to benefiting from watching her plants grow – carrots, parsnips and cabbage; “we tend to stick to what’s used in Scottish cooking”. But also in sharing the fruits of her labour, either literally or via Instagram.
With loneliness a growing issue in the UK, allotments can provide a valuable community. For Anderson, coming together with fellow allotmenteers isn’t “necessarily about connecting with people who are similar to me – it’s about connecting with people you have nothing in common with apart from growing”.
Another allotmenteer, Steve Lewis, says there are always people passing through his green spot in Sheffield. “It’s nice to have a chat; see how the asparagus is or isn’t doing,” says the 61-year-old retired maths teacher on his hillside plot.