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The ‘Airbnb for gardens’: We meet Londoners putting down roots in rented outdoor spaces

If you’re green-fingered but don’t have the plot to match, there is a solution. An innovative website is matching would-be growers with garden owners who are happy to rent out their unused green spaces.

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Plot twist: Corrie Rounding’s rented garden is a four-minute bike ride from her flat in Oval

/ Daniel Hambury
By
21 September 2022
E

arly autumn is one of the best times to start a garden that will be ready to flourish next spring. But about one in five households in London don’t have a garden or any outside space.

A clever new website that acts as a sort of “Airbnb for gardeners” matches up these would-be growers with those who do have outside space but lack the time, ability or the inclination to look after it.

AllotMe, founded by Conor Gallagher, pairs up people with plots to create a win-win situation.

“With all of the benefits to the environment and to our mental health, more and more young people are turning to what was once considered an older person’s pastime.

“While demand has been on the rise, the land set aside for allotments is in decline, so it was clear we needed a new approach to create more plots out of unused space across the capital and beyond,” he explains.

Stockwell success story

Architect Corrie Rounding, 31, has enjoyed two summers on her Stockwell plot, which is a four-minute bike ride from her second-floor flat in Oval. “I remember picking rhubarb, apples and raspberries in my grandparents’ garden, but I never thought much about gardening until recently.

“Like lots of people during the pandemic, I became more desperate for some outside space. I heard about AllotMe from a friend and decided to try it.”

After a steep learning curve, Corrie’s latest crop of fruit and veg has been much more successful

/ Adrian Lourie

Rounding pays £20 for a 50 sq m back garden and her first growing season was a steep learning curve, “The tomatoes ended up getting blight and dying and snails got a lot of the rest,” she recalls.

With a little guidance from her gardening guru great aunt, she created some raised beds and this year has been much more successful.

“I’ve grown courgettes, aubergines and peppers, the tomatoes have been a big success story and I’m hoping the potatoes will be the same. I don’t think I save any money by growing my own but the produce is definitely more tasty.”

I come here after work, it always feels really peaceful and I get to go home with a bowl of tomatoes and salad leaves

She loves the relaxing effect of spending time in the garden. “I come here straight after work, it always feels really peaceful and then I get to go home with a bowl of tomatoes and salad leaves.”

Bethnal Green blooms

Strategy consultant Amy Bendel, 28, finds tending her AllotMe plot in Bethnal Green similarly therapeutic. Having moved to London from Paris in early 2021 she was hoping to improve her work-life balance but her shared flat has no garden.

On a visit to Hackney Farm, she saw an advert for AllotMe, and browsed the local plots before choosing a front garden a 10-minute walk away, for £16 a month.

After removing the weeds, she found some unused pots which she has filled with compost and planted up with geraniums, hostas, campanulas and delphiniums.

“Although the delphiniums are struggling a bit. It’s quite a shady spot which is why I haven’t gone for vegetables.” Three months in, she visits her little plot almost every day. “There’s something mindful and therapeutic about gardening. I’m always learning and it feels good to get soil under my fingernails.”

Gardener Rosa Mechoni with plot owner Helen Webster in New Malden

/ Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

Reaping benefits in New Malden

People become garden hosts for a wide range of reasons, but Helen Webster’s motivation was frustration at watching her 35 metre-long garden in New Malden lie neglected. She decided to list an 11 metre-square section of her garden with a new AllotMe tenant, Rosa, after discussing how the arrangement will work for both of them.

“I’ve had three previous gardeners that I found through local ads but with AllotMe, the people are much more interested in gardening.”

Webster lacks the time to keep on top of her garden for a range of reasons, but hated the thought of the space being wasted.

“I used to grow vegetables but I don’t have time now. It’s all too much for me so it’s great that somebody can take some of it off my hands.”

Rosa Mechoni enjoys the security of gardening a private plot she can access via a locked gate

/ Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

Her new tenant is an experienced gardener who no longer feels safe on her allotment, due to rising crime there.

Access to Webster’s garden is via a locked side gate and, as well as providing a small greenhouse, tap and hose, this owner has got her tenant off to a great start by covering the ground with cardboard, creating the perfect weed-free start for the increasingly popular “no-dig” gardening method. “Rosa, my new tenant, only has to heap compost on top and transplant her seedlings over”.

Webster isn’t charging a fee for her plot. “I totally understand if people need to do that, but I don’t want to. If Rosa wants to share her produce that would be great and I can share my potato crop and cooking apples. I’m really grateful that the garden’s productive and being used.”

As well as shared produce there are social benefits too. While AllotMe’s focus is growing produce rather than spending time in the host’s garden, Webster and her new tenant have already found themselves chatting while tending their own parts of the garden, as she recalls. “We got quite philosophical actually.”

No outside space? Here’s how to get growing

Find your plant gang

Look for other garden-share schemes such as Lend and Tend, or get involved in a local community garden, often found in pocket parks or churchyards. Many gardens that open to the public also welcome volunteer gardeners. Visit lendandtend.com.

Create a kitchen garden

If you’re ready to upgrade from a couple of pots of supermarket herbs by the sink, there are stylish kits to help you. Click and Grow indoor gardens provide automated water, light and nutrients and go from compact worktop sizes, to three-tier plant stands growing around 50 edibles. Visit clickandgrow.com.

Look local

Start small and unofficially adopt an overlooked local patch, such as the ground around a mature tree. Remove weeds and rubbish, break up the soil and pop in some pretty bedding plants.

Make use of ceiling space

If you just can’t squeeze in any more houseplants, it’s time to hang them high using lightweight pots suspended from ceiling hooks, using plant hangers — there’s a huge selection on Etsy. Hang a trio at different heights for more impact. Visit etsy.com/uk/market/plant_hangers.

Go micro

For the plant-savvy but space-poor, tiny terrariums let you enjoy a fascinating ecosystem in miniature, on your desk or coffee table. Put one together with help from The Urban Botanist. Visit theurbanbotanist.co.uk/collections/terrariums.

Garden under water

Aquascaping allows you to create your own underwater realm using an aquarium that’s just for plants — as well as rocks, stones, driftwood and gravel to complete the look. YouTube is your friend for getting started, and it’s all too easy to get obsessed. Visit riverwoodaquatics.co.uk.

Create an indoor garden

Ready to take houseplants to the next level? Choose a corner by — or framing — a window. Zone the space by painting the walls and ceiling a deep, lush green. Fill the main space with something large and leafy like a Monstera or Fiddle Leaf Fig, then plug the gaps at the top and bottom with hanging plants and smaller pots, all in shades of green.

Choose your own weeds

If you’ve got “crack plants” growing against your fence, wall or kerbside, why not get involved and tweak your surroundings with a pack or two of seeds, from cheerful, vibrant poppies to Erigeron karvinskianus, with its masses of daisy-like flowers.

Ease in with an app

If you don’t feel ready keep an actual plant alive, test out your virtual green fingers on apps like Viridi, Terrarium: Garden Idle and Dream Garden Makeover.

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