Keen to grow your own fruit and veggies, but just don’t have the space at home? You’re not alone. In fact, one in eight Brits has no garden at all, let alone enough room for food crops. But that’s where allotment gardening comes in. Allotments are simply small portions of local land made available to individuals for the non-commercial growing of food plants. Rented from the landowner (usually the local council) for a very reasonable, essentially nominal sum, allotments enable you to grow food crops in a friendly, sociable environment, alongside allotment neighbours. Read on for my favourite allotment ideas.
Allotment gardening has become very popular in recent times, as more people look to grow their own food, free of pesticides, as well as enjoy a fun hobby for the whole family with guaranteed fresh air and exercise. Given the increased demand, there are often waiting lists for allotments, but it really depends on where you live as some areas do have plenty of vacant spots.
Where to start an allotment garden?
Let’s say the happy day has arrived that you are informed that you have been granted an allotment plot. It’s likely your plot will be wild and overgrown, but fear not, this is a good sign that your soil is fertile! Before you get stuck into the fun part of the planting and watching your crops grow, you’ll likely need to tidy up the plot first, removing old growth, fertilising well and setting up your on-site storage and equipment needs (gardening tools like forks, spades, wheelbarrow and so on, and a small shed to safely store everything).
Here, we’ve gathered up 35 allotment ideas to get you started on your allotment gardening journey—from practical tips on planting to some more decorative ideas to enhance your enjoyment of your plot. Let’s dig in!
1. Feel the community spirit
One of the greatest parts of allotment gardening is of course the social aspect and the interaction with your allotment neighbours—if you’re a beginner, you’re not muddling along in isolation, but can readily draw on the advice and tips from other, more experienced gardeners. Mingling with other grow-your-own-food enthusiasts is also a good way to get into plant swapping.
2. Plan the best layout
Before you do any digging, review your existing plot and draw up a plan on paper. You’ll need to think about the following considerations:
- What type of soil you have, as this will determine which plants grow well. Other plot holders can probably help you with this, but if not, you can purchase soil testing kits at a garden centre.
- What kind of plants are there already (if there are any that are established, you may wish to keep, but don’t keep for the sake of it, only crops you’ll actually want to eat).
- What kind of initial work you need to be carried out (such as land clearing or tidying up, earthmoving, garden waste removal or perhaps soil/sand delivery).
- Whether there are any useful existing structures (raised beds, trellises, compost area, pathways, shed, greenhouses, cold frames) and what you will want to add.
- The elements – how the sun travels over the plot, how the wind exposure is, and if there are any shaded areas.
- Access to water and fertiliser – this may be communal, or it may be your responsibility to establish systems.
Then it’s a case of deciding on the best layout for your purposes, but you’ll find plenty of inspiration for allotment layout ideas online.
3. Decide what to plant
Armed with the knowledge of what grows well in your area, your decision on what to plant will really come down to what you would like your family to eat, as well as how much time you are prepared to put into tending your allotment. Consider all the “cut and come again” veggies that will give you successive harvests through the same season all from the same plant.
For example leafy greens, beet greens, salad veg like lettuce or celery, spinach and the like, and most herbs. Perennials are also excellent allotment plants, living more than two years and returning each spring from their rootstock. For example tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, basil and garlic.
4. Choose your structures
Raised beds are very popular as they are attractive, easier to manage soil quality, and will ensure you automatically get nice straight pathways in between. Create low-cost raised beds using recycled materials or buy ready-made planter boxes—either way, you’ll love the benefits and the neat look of a raised bed allotment. I like the aesthetic of this one with simple black-painted timber boxes.
5. Aim for a low maintenance plot
Since you won’t be spending time daily at your allotment, you’ll want to work out ways to make your plot as low maintenance as possible. Choose low maintenance crops (things like carrots, onions, rhubarb, chillies and winter squashes), and in particular, crops that don’t spoil if they aren’t harvested at a crucial window in time, which may be inconvenient or impractical for you.
Luckily, when it comes to something like watering, it’s fine to water your allotment for an hour once a fortnight, rather than trying to get there often for more frequent waterings. But you can even use simple tricks like sinking bottles beside the roots of your larger plants (eg. corn), which you simply fill with water that will slowly disperse into the root zone.
6. Add mulch
Mulch is your friend for reducing moisture loss through evaporation, improving soil nutrients, reducing soil erosion, and minimising weed growth. You can either use organic mulch (biodegradable, such as grass clippings, cardboard and wood chips), or inorganic mulch (eg. river rock and gravel). Another type of inorganic mulch that’s often used very effectively in allotments is plastic mulch, a polyethene film that insulates the soil.
7. Have fun with decor
When it comes to allotment ideas, just because you’re renting the plot doesn’t mean you can’t make cosmetic improvements to enhance your experience. You don’t have to build permanent structures, but go ahead and add elements that appeal to you that you can easily dismantle in future. If aesthetics are important to you, you might even consider hiring a landscape designer.
8. Look into rooftop allotments
Rooftop allotments like this one in New York are becoming a little more common in the UK too, as urban agriculture develops and landowners increasingly look for more ways to effectively use city space. The advantage of a rooftop allotment is that raised bed planters can simply be installed on top of existing hard flooring, with no need to create paths or deal with weed incursion.
9. Join forces
Collaboration really is a fundamental aspect of allotment gardening. And here in the UK, even if your local council has no allotment land available, if you get together with six or more others on the electoral roll, you can make an application requesting allotment land.
Your local authority then has the duty to consider it, although there’s no specific timeframe for them to provide land. But the more support you have from other keen potential allotment gardeners, the more persuasive your application may be.
10. Insulate your plants
There are many ways to extend your harvest even if you live somewhere with a shorter growing season. The main solutions are greenhouses, cold frames, and simple row covers. All work on the same principle of insulating and protecting your plants from harsh conditions, but cold frames are typically smaller (only a few feet high) and while they may have an additional heat source, they don’t have the more sophisticated heating and ventilation systems that greenhouses do.
11. Plant herbs
Add fragrance to your allotment, and improve your home cooking, by growing plenty of herbs through your plot. They’re also brilliant for repelling pests (for instance, sage will deter cabbage moths). And did you know that growing herbs beside other veggies will enhance the veggies’ flavour? Basil, for example, when grown next to lettuce and tomatoes, beautifully enhances their flavour.
12. Make beds strong and sturdy
You don’t have to use raised bed planters for your allotment—plenty of people recycle many other kinds of materials to create beds, such as wooden pallets or old bathtubs. But if going for raised beds, whether the sides are constructed from bricks, wood, metal or concrete blocks, you’ll need to make sure the edges are sturdy to reduce maintenance and minimise weed invasion. A surrounding layer of gravel, like in the garden below, will also help prevent weeds.
13. Companion plant
Make sure you look into companion planting to make the most of your allotment space. Essentially, companion planting is the idea that some plants like growing near each other while others prefer not to. It’s all about complementary plant relationships, with benefits including better nutrient uptake, improved pest management, enhanced pollination and ultimately higher yields.
Conversely, planting members of the same plant family together means they’ll compete for soil nutrients, so it’s best to disperse them across your plot (for example, related plants like onion, garlic, leek and chives). You’ll find a wealth of information online about companion planting.
14. Make use of all the space
How much space you have obviously depends on the size of your allotment. Many allotments are actually pretty large (typically 250sqm!), but they are also often rented out in half or even quarter size plots. If you have a smaller allotment, you’ll want to extend your growing space by growing upwards as well as horizontally, through trellises and climbing frames, or stepped raised planters. This tiny section of an allotment makes great use of space!
15. Make paths
Building durable paths between your beds is important to provide access to all areas of your plot and link functional areas (for example to the composting area or shed). But you don’t need to spend a fortune. Simple bark chip or inexpensive gravel paths are great or use pavers to lead the way. Don’t forget to make your paths wide enough to allow a wheelbarrow through.
16. Keep it neat
Planters and raised beds can be constructed from so many materials, including metal (whether aluminium, Corten or galvanised steel or even cast iron). If a neat-looking allotment appeals to you, square or rectangular metal planter boxes might be the go. Metal planters have the advantage of being strong and looking attractive against your greenery, but you need to be careful about the sun potentially heating the soil too much and damaging your plants. Therefore, make sure to use a plastic liner and always ensure good drainage too.
17. Work out water
Your allotment plot may share utilities like water, or it may be up to you to sort out your irrigation needs. If you wish to install a proper water tank to collect and store rainwater, check with your council as there may be subsidies, rebates or government grants available to help with purchasing and installing water tanks.
18. Be creative with water storage
On the other hand, you can get away with harvesting water in many other creative ways, with many people simply choosing recycled plastic drums or similar vessels. Below, gardeners in this allotment harvest rainwater from the roof of their chookhouse, and store it in clean ex-fuel drums that are connected and fitted with a tap.
19. Build cold frames
You’ll often see cold frames used in allotments, as they’re a wonderful way to absorb solar energy and protect your plants in colder months. Similar to a greenhouse but not designed to walk inside, a cold frame is essentially a box with a transparent lid or cover, you grow your seeds, young plants or rooted cuttings directly in the frame before transplanting to the garden beds. Sinking your cold frames into the ground by a foot will also enhance heat retention.
20. Have a polytunnel
Popular in allotments, polytunnels are a great economical alternative to greenhouses and will similarly protect plants from seasonal changes, dramatic weather, and pests. They are simply large, elongated, walk-in tunnels with galvanised steel frames covered in plastic sheeting. Perfect for your lettuce, tomatoes and berries!
21. Try soft planters
You may not wish to install the more permanent kinds of raised bed structures, whether due to the costs or the effort involved. In that case, you might like to consider low-cost, more flexible planters made from collapsible materials, like the “farm in a sack” polypropylene soft planters used in this allotment.
22. Truss up trellises
Make your allotment garden three dimensional by growing crops on trellises. These always look awesome and won’t take up precious ground space. There are heaps of fruit and veg that can be grown on a trellis, for example, beans, peas, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, berries, grapes and even watermelon. I like these cool tepee-style trellises that are sure to make your allotment stand out from the rest!
23. Bring your A-game
The A-frame style of the trellis is another option, commonly used for growing crops like climbing beans. Trellises and frames provide plants with support, free up ground space, and makes veggies easier to pick. Not to mention, the look of plants winding their way up trellises and climbing frames is very pleasing. Here’s a simple one made of timber and bamboo.
24. Build a DIY potato planter
Planning on growing root vegetables? Save yourself the backache of digging with a DIY raised planter specifically designed for harvesting crops like potatoes. You can find plans for these online with detailed assembly instructions—or maybe outsource the project to a carpenter.
25. Make an arch
Another plant that loves trellis is butternut squash. I love the way the plant has grown to form an archway here, with the heavy veggies just dangling there lightly as though defying the laws of physics. Growing upwardly saves so much ground space as well as creating these charming spaces in your allotment, it’s definitely worth factoring into your allotment garden layout.
26. Build a bug attractor
Beneficial garden insects are super important for gardens, many vital for crop pollination and others that will eat more destructive pests (or actually live inside the host pest and eat it to death…charming!). Add a bug hotel to your allotment garden so these beneficial insects have an inviting home there. You can find ready-made kits to buy, or you can simply construct one using your imagination and a range of materials suited to nesting. Furnish the ‘rooms’ with a variety of materials like deadwood, loose bark and straw.
27. Allotment ideas – the DIY cloche
Pest and disease control is an important aspect of allotment gardening, and you’ll need to regularly check over all your plants to keep a handle on any problems. Growing plants that are known to be resistant to local diseases or pests is a good start, as well as using preventative measures like wire perimeter fencing (against rabbits) or cloches and netting for insect pests. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make your own cloches to protect your plants. Here’s an example of a super simple raised bed cloche.
28. Use chickenwire against birds
You can also purchase wire cloches for protecting plants against thieving birds, but honestly, save yourself the expense and make your own with chicken wire. There’s plenty of tutorials on Pinterest and they’re a very basic DIY.
29. Build a triple compost bin
Compost production will be part of your allotment gardening duties. Depending on the size of your plot, and whether or not you can join composting forces with allotment neighbours, a domestic compost bin may suffice or you might end up building an open compost bay, like this DIY triple-bay compost bin.
These triple bays contain one bin for fresh scraps, one for decomposing material and one for usable compost. Note that open compost bays need the weekly turning of compost to create a hot, rapid compost and to minimise rodent breeding.
30. Set up a tool storage solution
You’ll need some sort of structure to securely house your garden tools. A small metal shed with a good padlock will be the safest bet, to keep expensive equipment out of sight. Your shed area is also perfect for setting up a little plant propagation station/nursery for propagating plants from seeds and cuttings. Here’s an attractive set-up, but it doesn’t need to be this fancy.
31. Make a portable pallet tool station
I came across this DIY pallet portable tool station which I think is pretty clever for making life easier, especially if your allotment plot is a decent size. Who wants to be individually schlepping a bunch of heavy tools around the plot when you can just wheel them all wherever you need them? At the end of a gardening session, it can simply be parked back in secure storage.
32. Have a play station
Although allotment gardening can be a lot of fun for all the family, if the kids are at an age where they may be slightly more of a hindrance than a help in the plot, consider putting together a designated kid play area, such as a sand or mud pit. Add some kids’ size gardening tools and buckets and the ankle-biters will be happy to tend to their own little plot while you do your duties.
33. Craft DIY garden markers
Don’t lose track of what you’ve planted and where—always add garden markers to your planting. There are gazillions of tutorials on Pinterest for inexpensive, homemade garden markers that you can use in your allotment. There’s absolutely a need to spend much money on markers. I like these simple painted pegs, which are cheap as chips to make.
34. Install a butterfly feeder
Another way you can add some beauty, life and colour to your allotment plot is to set up a butterfly feeder. Apart from adding charm as they flutter around you while you work, butterflies are important for helping pollinate many plants. Very simple to make (again, there are thousands of tutorials on Pinterest so you’re sure to find one you like), you simply fill them with nectar and let the creatures do the rest. This one is lovely and colourful.
35. Add social spaces
Finally, don’t forget to think about installing some kind of seating, preferably under the cover of a tree or small pergola for shelter, for taking a break or a refreshing beverage during your allotment gardening sessions. Somewhere to have a sip from a thermos while chatting with allotment neighbours is great for fostering sociability and new friendships. How cute is this round bench?
So there you have a stack of allotment ideas that should enhance your experience of allotment gardening and hopefully ensure a bumper harvest! Over to you – have you caught the allotment gardening bug yourself, and have perhaps already put your name down on the list with your council? Or, are you an old hand at allotment gardening? If so, please share any tips and tricks you have in the comments!