Natty scarecrows on the Elder Stubbs allotments

Allotments are going to be all the rage this year. The National Trust recently announced that they’re making available enough spare land for up to 1000 allotments, via the Landshare scheme. British Waterways and British Rail are in on the act, too, looking for land along canals and railway lines that could be used to grow vegetables.

With the environmental benefits of growing your own, rising food prices and the credit crunch, having a kitchen garden plot has never been so fashionable – and that means that ‘allotment chic’ is on the rise as well.

Allotment chic isn’t about wearing your wellies down to the pub or showing up for work with grass stains on your trousers. Allotments have a real style of their own, based on allotmenteers embracing DIY and using salvaged, free and recycled materials on their plots.

It may look a bit ramshackle, but there’s some real savings to be made by adding a bit of allotment chic to your garden. If you can’t afford to buy a greenhouse, have a look in classified ads – or on Freegle – to see whether anyone is selling theirs or giving one away. You may have to dismantle it yourself, and replace a few panes of glass, but you’ll have a place to grow your tomatoes at a fraction of the cost.

Net curtains make great crop protection netting – keeping the birds off your soft fruit and the caterpillars away from your cabbages. Net curtains aren’t at all trendy at the moment, so you may be able to find second-hand ones for sale in your local charity shop.

If you keep your eyes open on your travels then you may be able to find enough old windows (where people are having double-glazing installed) to build yourself a free cold frame, and the wood from discarded pallets is endlessly useful if you like DIY – try making yourself a set of compost bins, or even some greenhouse staging.

A few old tyres make a great raised bed and make it possible to grow spuds even if you don’t have a garden, because you can stand them on the patio. And I’ve heard of people taking broken concrete from building sites to use in a rockery – but perhaps that’s going too far.

Get the look
The whole point of allotment chic is to spend time, rather than money. Here are a few easy ways to add some salvage style to your garden:

  • Old bricks make a lovely edging for a raised bed. Try setting them at a 45° angle to make an attractive zig-zag pattern.
  • If you have trouble with birds attacking your crops, string up some old CDs where they’ll blow around and catch the sun. You may need to move them every so often, once the birds get used to them.
  • A lovely project for kids is to make a scarecrow out of old clothes, some straw and a stout pole.
  • Lots of food packaging can be given a second life in the garden. Plastic trays are great for sowing small amounts of seed, and if you have a matching pair then you have a mini propagator.
  • Ice lolly sticks make great plant labels. If you want to make them more individual, try painting them with odds and ends of paint from the garage.
  • Punch a hole in the bottom of a yoghurt pot and it’s as good as a shop-bought plant pot. But if you don’t eat yoghurt, take up the ancient art of origami and make your own plant pots out of newspaper!

This article first appeared in Country Gardener in May 2009.