IT IS a crisp spring morning and Scarcroft Allotment it is bustling with life. Blue tits and goldfinches twitter on the trees, frogs hop in and out of ponds and slugs chow down on gardeners’ hard work – all before anyone is around to watch.

Not all these visitors are as welcome as others, but the abundance of broccoli, parsnips and garlic pushing at the earth, brambles to nibble on and bird feeders in the trees, make it a haven for wildlife.

This is one of the most popular allotments in York. The waiting list for Scarcroft now stands at 60. Demand is such that City of York Council only gives out half plots and it takes between two and three years to get one.

The problem is not restricted to York. The National Trust recently announced plans to create 100,000 more allotment spaces on its land because of a national shortage of growing space.

So why are we so keen to get gardening?

Graham Sanderson and Sara Robin have been allotment-holders for more than 20 years and think it is down to cookery programmes, gardening programmes and a desire to get back to basics.

“I think things have certainly changed over the years,” says Graham. “Allotments were seen as something old men did to get away from their wives and came home with a load of cabbages that no one really enjoyed.

“That changed and more younger people started to get involved.

“People also seem to be cooking more, and growing to fit in with that. We get a lot more people growing things like squashes and courgettes, peppers and chillies. People are interested in eating more hot food, more exotic food, and it is affecting what they grow.”

Today, tall, knobbly purple sprouting broccoli is flourishing under netting on Graham’s plot, near the grassy tops of some parsnips, the dead seeds of globe artichokes and long, green shoots of garlic.

He pulls many tasty meals from the ground, he says proudly.

“It’s amazing how much you can get depending on the weather. We had 30lb of strawberries last year, but you have to net them because the birds would have all that 30lb if you let them.”

“If it rains then the slugs would eat them,” adds Sara. “It can be a planning nightmare.”

Times have changed since Sara first took up her fork. She initially shared a plot with a friend so they would have somewhere to be outdoors. They built a sandpit for their young children and sat back to enjoy home-grown raspberries and strawberries in the sun.

They were frowned upon by people who wanted to keep perfect allotments, but there are plenty of young people there now.

More couples and young families are adding their names to the waiting list and the swings, tables and chairs are signs that the space is well-used.

Sara’s early experience certainly didn’t deter her and under a thick archway of branches (to deter vandals), her little piece of greenery sports pear trees, apple tress, fruit bushes and a small pond with frogspawn.

How much money you save on grocery bills depends on how much time you spend gardening, says Sara.

She is self-sufficient with garlic, and makes plenty of jams with her fruit, but crops are dependant on weather, manpower and sticky fingers. “I almost dug up my strawberry plants once because I didn’t think I’d had a single strawberry. Later, my son confessed he had eaten them all walking home from school,” she laughs.

You can get away with spending a few hours a week toiling on the soil, or much more, depending.

“Some weeks in the winter you’re not doing anything. The weeds are about to grow as everything else is about to grow so,” says Graham. “You work with the seasons.”

The Scarcroft & Distinct Allotment Association serves the Scarcroft, Hospital Fields and Hob Moor allotment sites. There is a hut where you can buy garden supplies and seek advice from other gardeners, and annual events such as a hedge care and litter pick day and a Dawn Chorus Walk to meet the early-waking wildlife.

There is also talk of a buddy system for new gardeners, who may want advice.

It might take a year or two to get a plot, but Andy Strachan of the charity Garden Organic has some advice for when you do.

“I would always recommend starting very small,” he says. “Cultivate a very small patch of ground and keep the rest of it just mown. As you find your feet move on. Don’t dig the whole thing in one go because it’s quite a big piece of land and people underestimate the time you have to spend on it.”

* For more information on allotments in York, visit

What to plant and when

The best time to take on an allotment is the autumn, says Andy Strachan, of charity Garden Organic.

But, if you are starting now, clear the weeds and cultivate the soil with compost or manure. Broad beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, leafy beats, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radish, spinach, potatoes and leafy salads can all be planted in spring. You can also start off celery, courgettes, cucumbers, runner beans, pumpkins, sweetcorn and tomatoes at home to plant after the last frost (May).

Fruit bushes should really be planted in autumn.

If you don’t want to wait for an allotment, try growing at home.

“You can grow so many things in pots,” says Andy. “I always grow my carrots in them and take them really young and sweet and small. If you have big pots you can grow several things in them.

“Successional sewing is important too. I go through maybe one lettuce a week so I don’t want 20 growing at once. I will sew four or five, wait a few weeks and sew some more.”