The allotments in Regent’s Park and Kensington Gardens are some of the green gems that Londoners have been rediscovering over the last few months, and many visitors have come through the door with a slight gasp, at times bashfully confessing: “I’ve lived here for so many years, and I didn’t know this place existed!”
The Regent’s Park Allotment has been run as a partnership between The Royal Parks and Capital Growth for almost a decade. Capital Growth is London’s largest food growing network, it supports people to grow food at home, on allotments, or as part of community groups, and it is part of the wider charity Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming. The Allotment at Kensington Gardens has been run by The Royal Parks for several years and is joining that partnership in 2020.
Everything we grow in the allotments is organic. Our only pesticide is the garlic spray we make, and our fertilizers come from our comfrey plants, nettles and our composting systems. We often save our seeds, we use a crop rotation system and plenty of companion plants, and we always ensure pollinators and beneficial insects find a safe haven in the allotments.
Activities and Volunteers
While we grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables – from apples to asparagus, strawberries to salads, and radishes to rhubarb – these spaces are also demonstration gardens and educational settings. In spring and summer, we usually welcome children from local schools who come to learn about plant science and wildlife, we run open days and family days, and lots of training activities for adults as part of Capital Growth’s Training Programme.
The allotment Volunteers are at the core of the success and the charm of these spaces. Many have joined with only a little knowledge about food growing, with their professional confidence and expertise beautifully developing over time. They put a lot of hard work into maintaining the allotments, and produce is usually shared among the volunteers.
When lockdown started in mid March, all volunteering was suspended across the Parks. We decided that if Volunteers could not come to the allotments, we would ‘bring the allotments to them’, and weekly updates from these spaces kept the groups informed on what was being sown, planted and harvested. However, the question of what to do with the harvest during lockdown became an important one for both allotments.
We decided that at time of crisis, we could support the local community by providing fresh organic food to those most in need, and we started to donate our harvest in April. Regent’s Park allotment has been donating part of its crops to the West Hampstead Mutual Aid Group (with food being distributed to the most vulnerable and shielding in the local community), and part to the Handmaids of the Secret Heart of Jesus, a local convent where shielding nuns received weekly fresh vegetables as a healthy addition to the preserved food items they had been relying on.
The produce from Kensington allotment has been collected every week by two volunteers from the North Paddington Food Bank, and made available to those most in need in the local community.
We are proud of the fact that during these strange months, our chard, radishes, potatoes, kale, rhubarb, artichokes, broad beans, berries, salad, wild rocket, beetroots, herbs, turnips, and cabbage have found their way to those who needed them the most. Both allotments have registered with Capital Growth’s latest project, Community Harvest, which provides extra support to gardens who choose to donate food to their local communities.
As summer comes and some of our Volunteers can return to the allotments, we look forward to having more visitors discovering these spaces, feeling inspired to grow more food, and maybe drawing a little gasp when they enter these special gems in the Parks.