Appeal of allotments as Leeds waiting lists grow: They're the 'best thing since sliced bread'

As a boy Phil Gomersall would relish the crunch of the season’s first homegrown wonky carrot, plucked from the soil in his father’s garden as he ‘helped’ with the harvest.

By Ruby Kitchen
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 6:00 am

There’s nothing more satisfying, he says now from his own plot in a village in Leeds, championing the wonders of garden growing as president of the National Allotment Society (NAS).

This week marks National Gardening Week, as the RHS celebrates the joys that can be found in the grounds of nature, from sowing seeds to nurturing houseplants and savouring green spaces.

To grandfather Mr Gomersall, 77, it’s quite simply “the best thing since sliced bread”.

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Phil Gomersall, president of the National Allotment Society, pictured on his plot in Rawdon. Image: Simon Hulme

When asked what makes gardening special, he said thoughtfully: “It’s the fresh air, the exercise.

“Especially allotment gardening to grow your own fresh food. And you know how it’s been grown, with no chemicals.

“It’s very environmentally sound, if you like. Then you’ve got the camaraderie, social aspects and the therapeutic aspects,” he continued.

“The cost of living is going up, people are thinking well, they might grow their own.”

Phil Gomersall, president of the National Allotment Society, pictured on his plot in Rawdon. Image: Simon Hulme

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Mr Gomersall, despite that first taste in his father’s garden, was to go on to have a varied career, from driving tractors to working as a groundsman, plumber, and teacher.

As a parish councillor helping to set up Rawdon in Bloom some years ago, he started to come back to it.

First it was with the village’s Victory Allotment Gardens, where he is still secretary, then to the Leeds Allotment Federation (LAF) and eventually Yorkshire.

Phil Gomersall, president of the National Allotment Society, pictured on his plot in Rawdon. Image: Simon Hulme

Now, as national president, he represents England abroad, or at events like today’s RHS Malvern Show. Nationwide, all through this week, the RHS is celebrating gardening.

Back in Rawdon, Mr Gomersall has ‘one-and-a-half’ allotments, measuring 250 sq m. Waiting lists are competitive, and growing, and he’s now looking to shrink his own plot.

Gardeners were among the first to see restrictions lifted under lockdown, you see. Within four weeks, said Mr Gomersall, his waiting list had grown from four people to 26.

Rising interest

Phil Gomersall, president of the National Allotment Society, pictured on his plot in Rawdon. Image: Simon Hulme

Now interest is rising again. No longer is it the “flat cap brigade”, with retired gentleman, he insisted, but more than half of those waiting are young families keen to grow their own veg.

“It’s lovely,” he said. “Now we have Easter egg hunts. That’s why I picked it up, from being five years old and helping my dad. It sticks in your mind.

“My daughter’s 40 now, and there’s still nothing she likes better than coming to dig the first potatoes out of my garden.

“It’s a bit primeval, isn’t it,” he mused. “There’s nothing lovelier than getting your hands a bit mucky in the garden. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.”

National week

National Gardening Week, from the RHS, runs until Sunday to encourage people to take part in gardening.

There has been a big surge over the past two years, with Tesco reporting that demand for bedding plants and shrubs has surged by nearly 50 per cent since March 2020.

The LAF, with over 1,500 people on waiting lists for plots in the Leeds districts, has created show gardens for what can be grown even in a back yard terrace.

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