The hedge that borders Butts Park Allotments and Elm Grove Road is an old elm hedge and, in common with many in the our area, it is in poor condition. The elm trees attain a few centimetres in diameter before Dutch Elm Disease kills them off. The Butts Park hedge is composed of relatively few young saplings and mostly dead wood, supported by ivy and brambles. The city council, which owns the hedge, flails it each year and allotment tenants trim the inside.
A project initiated by the Topsham Allotments Site Managers has breathed fresh life into the hedge by laying it and planting lots of new hedge row trees and spring flower bulbs. The aim is to make the hedge more diverse, provide fresh habitats for hedgerow creatures and to make it more attractive too.
A group of volunteer allotment holders, led by an experienced hedge layer, has so far laid about half of the 120 metres of hedge and planted trees over the last three years. This is to make the best of the sparse and over-large, remaining tree trunks. It uses the traditional hedge laying ‘stake and weave’ method. The final height approximates to the current general level.
We have, so far, planted about 150 new saplings of 5 different species, to thicken and enrich the biodiversity of the hedge. These have been kindly donated by the Woodland Trust or purchased locally. Topsham councillors are very supportive and a modest but most helpful grant from the council part financed the early stage of the scheme. Further funding has come from Topsham Allotments and Gardens Society and we have the support of Exeter City Council department that has responsibility for allotments. We are most indebted to the hedge layer, Derek Hazelden, who teaches us as well as doing the most technical work and to the 15 or so volunteers who work so hard on the project!
Water conservation is important to TAGS members and allotment tenants. The city council installed water troughs fed by mains water many years ago but occasional droughts remind gardeners of the need to manage water carefully. This includes mulching plots and installing water butts to make use of the runoff from sheds and greenhouses. The use of hosepipes are not allowed. Recently, TAGS bought and Site Managers installed 2 large water butts fed by rainwater from the Trading Hut.
Most of the plots on Sunhill allotment are situated on a north east facing slope. Over the years, plot holders have tended to build up the lower part of their plot to make it more level. The result of this is a ‘soil creep’ downhill, obscuring the paths between the plots. A project was started about 9 years ago to renovate the paths by cutting back the creep, making the path level and shoring up the lower edge with secured scaffolding boards. It was also an opportunity to straighten the paths and re-define the boundaries of those affected plots.
The first stage was to do a survey and mark out the position of the new paths using string. A shallow trench was dug along this line and the soil used to build up and level the path. The trench was filled with stones to assist drainage and also become the base upon which the treated scaffolding boards were mounted. They were kept in place by 50cm lengths of angle iron driven into the ground. In most cases, only a single board was needed to retain the soil on the upper side of the path and the equivalent supporting the lower side. However, the creep across one path was great enough to require three boards as a retaining wall.
One plot on Butts Park East has been divided into one and two rod plots. This initiative is aimed at existing tenants who, for one reason or other, find the large plots too difficult to maintain but who would like to continue cultivation and to remain part of the allotment community. This helps free up larger plots for new tenants.
The Topsham Allotment Site Managers have achieved a long-held ambition - to create an allotment suited for use by someone in a wheelchair. A plot is now let to Topsham resident, Sarah Piercy.
As an aside, she has a remarkable record as a wheelchair athlete! When aged 19, she competed in the 2000 London Marathon for the first time, winning the womens’ wheelchair event with a time of 2:23:30. She has now completed nine London Marathons along with half marathons, road races and riding for the disabled. In 2016, Sarah became the world speed record holder for a woman in a handbike when she clocked 24.8mph in Nevada, USA.
Plot 29C, a one rod allotment on Butts Park East, was available and over the last few months it has seen a lot of activity. The original plan for a 5 rod plot, kindly devised by Matt Leigh, another Topsham resident, who works as a project manager on the Alan Titchmarsh, Love Your Garden series, was brilliant, but a touch too ambitious and more than needed for Sarah’s aim, which is to grow native tree seedlings for planting out in the local area. With Matt’s advice for a scaled down project, a small group of allotment holders has done all the work themselves.
This was no weekend garden makeover! Dismantling the existing shed, the decaying raised beds and flattening the plot involved a huge effort by the half dozen people involved. Laying a recycled plastic flooring system, filling it with gravel and constructing a new large raised bed, however, has been very satisfying. Major thanks are due to RGB Building Supplies in Marsh Barton, who generously donated the plastic hexagonal flooring system and to Apex Scaffolding who gave us boards cut to the right lengths to make the raised bed. Just as we were scratching our heads with how to fill the 6 cubic metres of raised bed, we received a very kind offer of free topsoil from Richard and Ruth of Greatwood Terrace. We filled some 140 bags from their skip and brought it in the back of cars to fill the bed, along with the contents of 5 compost bins. A bench and shed have now been installed too.
The team who have done all the work deserve a mention; no maybe a medal each – Eliot Wright, Dave Hayes, Trevor Day, Maureen Hare, Deborah Booth, Dan Rowe and Ralph Hare.
Final accounts have not yet been drawn up but the total cost will be just a few hundred pounds and most, if not all, has been covered by generous donations from individuals, a supply of donated horse manure sold to allotment holders and free labour.
Thanks are due to Exeter City Council who have been supportive of the scheme and have installed a water tap. Sarah can now get to work nurturing the tree seeds she has sown. They will find their way to the countryside in the Topsham area.
We are keenly aware that the climate is changing and this will have a major impact on our gardening. We also recognise that, in a small way, our gardening practices can influence the climate too. We have already organised a talk on ‘gardening in a changing climate’. We intend to organise more such talks and as circumstances change add to our FAQs to offer specific advice on managing climate change.
This is the large apple tree just beyond the trading hut. The fruit is there for anyone on the allotments to pick. Please take only what you will use in your household. When the hut is open there is a picker which you can borrow for fruit high in the branches.