Allotments in Australia?

Very temporary garden at my parents’ house.

Very temporary garden at my parents’ house.

Watching Monty’s Don’s Big Dreams Small Spaces this summer we have been introduced to the English concept of allotment gardening. From what we’ve seen so far we are in love. So began the journey to finding You-tuber’s whose allotments we could watch grow and learn about with my favourite so far being Lavender and Leeks.

 Allotments don’t exist in Australia. Which quite frankly we think is a tragedy. The reason they don’t exist seems to be that in the past home ownership levels were really high and land sizes were large. People had plenty of space and the permission to grow their produce at home. Currently we’re seeing a flip in this trend though with many of us living in rental properties permanently and most newer homes having increasingly smaller yards.

 We’ve started looking at rental properties once again and in the older, more established areas there are plenty of smaller houses on huge blocks that seem to be lawn only. Perfect for trying out some permaculture practices. But there’s no guarantee the landlord will allow us to put in a garden and putting one in without written permission put you at risk of eviction. In many areas a community garden is an option for extremely small-scale production but in our local area there isn’t one available. Also community gardens tend to be a bit small if you’re trying to grow all your own produce year round.

 We’ve been wondering if an allotment style model might actually work really well in an area like the South Coast of New South Wales. Whilst there don’t seem to be any larger plots of land that councils would allocate to a project like this there are a large number of hobby farmers and retirees in the area on acreage they don’t use.

 It’s a pretty common story in the area that older people relocated from the city to the country and bought acreage. Many of which are on over ten acres. But now as they get older the amount of land isn’t manageable. Some people are paying gardeners to come in and try to help maintain some of the land closest to their house but for many it’s just sitting there empty. There’s not even an option to subdivide as the land is generally zoned as high quality farmland.

 So perhaps renting out parcels of land for allotments to people who are eager to grow their own food be a good alternative. In the UK councils rent out land for anywhere between 9 pounds through to 110 pounds per year, that is around $16.00 to $218 Australian dollars. Plot sizes vary depending on the area but a traditional allotment size is about 250 square meters. This is considered to be enough land for a family to grow all their produce on for a year. On top of these costs there is of course the cost of water. Many allotments though have a shed and catch rainwater off the roof into a small tank to help cut some of these costs. Whilst allotments are rented out very cheaply it could be a little extra income for those with unused acreage, a chance to build community and perhaps a philanthropic opportunity to give young people who are keen to learn about gardening the space to do so.

 The benefits for those renting an allotment are huge. There’s the opportunity to have a garden that is semi-permanent or at least more permanent then most rental properties. With six month leases for homes becoming more common it’s difficult to establish any sort of garden. It’s an opportunity to trial out new growing systems and to most likely have better sun patterns than that available in a backyard. It’s also an opportunity to have the space to try growing a wider range of fruits, vegetables and flowers than you may currently have space for and it’s a chance to get out and exercise. Most importantly though it gives a sense of freedom, dignity and control by allowing you to make decisions about your garden and make the changes you want to make without having to seek written permission from a landlord.