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With the renewed enthusiasm for food growing and gardening that have coloured life for so many Londoners over the last few months, the allotments at Regent’s Park and Kensington Gardens have become popular stops for visitors and local residents.

The allotments are run in partnership between The Royal Parks and Capital Growth, and have been a quiet but eye-catching haven for many, during these strange months. They have also provided food for the local community during lockdown, taking part in Capital Growth’s Community Harvest project.

However, in March, the people who bring life to the allotments – the volunteers – were asked to patiently wait until restrictions were relaxed and volunteering would be safe again.

Sanctuaries for the soul

For many, staying away has not been easy, as these sites had become not just a recurrence in their calendars, but an important part of their daily lives. Jacky, a volunteer from Regent's Park, told us "Since I started volunteering in the allotment garden in Regent’s Park, I could never have imagined not being there. And then, lockdown. But now we are back and isn’t it wonderful? I can breathe again." Like many other volunteers, Jacky was able to return to the allotment from early July.

Almost 30 volunteers have now come back to enjoy the hard work and the produce from these special spaces. Ali, from Kensington Gardens, said “Having really missed being involved in the process, from sowing to harvesting, it’s wonderful to be back at the allotment again, and to see everything flourishing is so rewarding.”

Gardens are magical places, full of new life and wonder, if we know how to look and listen. They remind us of the cycles of nature, they remind us to slow down. A seed will take its time and will not be hurried.

During lockdown our friendly scarecrow kept an eye on the growing plants in Regent's Park allotment

In the Regent's Park allotment, this fearless robin pops by whenever the volunteers turn the earth

The summer sun has helped the tomatoes flourish in Kensington Gardens Allotment

Gardens’ ecosystems are populated with wonders that can take our breath away, when we slow down and take the time. In Kensington Gardens Allotment, May tells us of one of such moment when, after some serious weeding, “the best thing was finding a darling common frog under the convolvulus!” In Regent’s Park, Jacky was similarly taken aback a few weeks ago:

“We have a resident robin who joins us every time we turn the earth. So, I was so happy when, whilst giving the sorrel it’s biannual haircut, I was joined by a completely fearless juvenile robin. The youngster hopped on and off my boot, happily oblivious of everything except easy sorrel pickings. After about 20 minutes, a parent flew in, gave a couple of chirps, and off they went. What a magical time that was. Not something I get in a small flat on the seventh floor.”

Kensington Gardens also has its local robin, and Ali beautifully captured the bird’s joy, curiosity and willingness to be part of the Allotment community with the picture above.

We can let our minds wander in gardens, absorbed by the blending of colours, textures, and smells, which can awake our inner child while we work with nature. May, in Kensington, tells us: “I love doing the hard, physical work like wrestling with weeds and digging down to follow the evil thick bindweed roots, and trying my best to pull them up as a whole. I was imagining myself as a gold miner, except the vein of gold was a bindweed root!”

Gardening in a pandemic

In both allotments, we used to run weekly groups with the volunteers, but this is not yet possible. Instead, they are coming in in pairs or threes, provided with PPE, following rotas and special health and safety procedures. We hope to reintroduce weekly groups in the future, when we can do this safely. We would love to be able to host training sessions, school visits and open days again, when the garden becomes a source of inspiration for so many visitors.

In the meantime, we are still running training sessions, and we are still celebrating Capital Growth’s annual Urban Harvest. This year it will be online, with engaging talks, training, workshops and activities for all.

It doesn’t always feel straightforwardly easy to celebrate gardens behind a screen. And when it does feel difficult, once again, we can listen to the wisdom that one of our volunteers, May, draws from the garden: “By the end of the 2 hours I am utterly filthy, sweaty, scratched and blissfully happy. It's the highlight of my week.”

See for yourself

The allotment ardens are open to the public throughout the week, from 8.30am to 5pm and at weekends. To keep our volunteers safe, there will be times when the doors will be closed to the public. See the timetable below:

Regent's Park AllotmentKensington Gardens Allotment

Monday: closed 10am – 1pm

Tuesday: closed 10am – 1pm

Wednesday: closed 10am – 1pm

Tuesday: closed 11am – 1pm

Wednesday: closed 11am – 1pm

Thursday: closed 11am – 1pm

Friday: closed 11am – 1pm

Please note that at this stage the Royal Parks are not recruiting for new volunteers.

This summer as brought a rich harvest of home-grown fruit and vegetables

Raised beds are used in both allotments, making them accessible for youngsters and wheelchair users

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