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.
Allotments were once the domain of, mostly, elderly working class men. Tenants these days are far more diverse but they remain difficult to access for those with significant mobility problems. We have earmarked one plot on Butts Park East for conversion for the use of a new tenant who relies on a wheelchair. We are still at the planning and fund raising stage. Look out for developments in the near future.
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.