Harvest time on our allotments

Allotments at Springhill National Trust Northern Ireland

Following a campaign to get people back to nature, we created over 1,200 new allotments and growing spaces on our land between 2009 and 2012. A number of these are in Northern Ireland where the allotments at Hezlett House, Springhill, Florence Court, Greenhill and Minnowburn continue to thrive.

Although wonderful to enjoy all year allotments really come into their own during late summer and autumn when the fruits ripen and the vegetables mature, ready for harvest and the cooking pot.

Rural allotments at Springhill 
Springhill has 17 allotments, located in the two and a half acre walled garden. “Originally a kitchen garden, the walled garden had become completely overgrown and our small team of gardeners were finding it impossible to maintain,’ explains Sophie Atkinson, Area Ranger at Mid Ulster.

‘In 2009 we decided allotments would be a good use of the space. They provided an opportunity to get the community involved in the preservation of the garden and ensured its use related to its past.’

Fringe urban allotments at Minnowburn 
Another successful allotment project is at Minnowburn where Head Ranger Craig Somerville spotted the potential for allotments on land managed by the National Trust around Terrace Hill in Belfast: ‘When the estate's farm buildings were used as Minnowburn Youth Farm in the 1980s and 90s, a garden and allotments existed behind what is now the Warden's office. In 2008 the site was fenced off and became allotments and a community garden once again. Today we have 40 small plots and a wonderful sense of community has built up here over the years.’

Head ranger Craig Somerville in the allotment at Minnowburn
Allotment at Minnowburn National Trust Northern Ireland
Head ranger Craig Somerville in the allotment at Minnowburn

‘We have a real variety of plot tenants,’ Craig continues. ‘From single young people, to retired couples we try to open the gardens up to as wide a group as possible. Most live in and around the city and the allotments give them an opportunity to get back to nature and spend time amidst a stunning landscape.’

For the love of food
At Springhill, single and double plots are available, starting from £25 per year. Sophie explains that a single plot is large enough to grow sufficient produce to sustain a small family. ‘We have retired couples who are very experienced at growing, and young couples and young families who like the idea of having an allotment but don’t know much about gardening, and so they learn from the more experienced ones.  The one thing they all have in common is a love of food’ she laughs.

This community spirit is shared at Minnowburn where the allotment has taken on a new dimension with the addition of a pizza oven, children’s play area and beehives run by the Belfast Bee Keeping Association. ‘Although people rent individual plots we have lots of shared spaces including an orchard, poly tunnel, herb area and a wood fire pizza oven, so the social activity around the plots is a strong attraction.’

The Minnowburn allotment with the communal polytunnel in the background
The allotment at Minnowburn ready for harvest
The Minnowburn allotment with the communal polytunnel in the background

Away from the city 
Despite being located in rural mid ulster where many homes have gardens, Springhill’s allotments have proven to be hugely successful and there is currently a waiting list. So what’s the appeal here? 
‘Many of our allotment holders have gardens at home but they prefer to come here because they get the opportunity to chat with other like-minded gardeners,’ explains Sophie. ‘There’s a real sense of community with people sharing their ideas and the produce that they grow.’

 ‘Most evenings and weekends the walled garden is a hive of activity,’ she continues. ‘The plots look their most colourful in summer but it’s during the autumn harvest when our gardeners really get to reap the awards of their hard work.’ 

‘All we ask is that tenants keep their plots active and in good order,’ adds Craig. ‘What they grow and how often they come is up to them. Our plots are designed to be small and manageable, so it’s possible to maintain one with just one or two hours work a week.’

Diary date: Harvest at Springhill
Experience the gardens and allotments at Springhill on a guided tour every Sunday in October from 12-4. Not usually open to the public, this is a unique opportunity to learn what goes on at the allotments.