How to create your own edible landscape

With allotment waiting lists more than a decade long in many areas, people without gardens are becoming increasingly creative in their enthusiastic quest to grow their own food. Report by Giovanna Dunmall

Food not lawns

The urban food-growing network Food Up Front (which currently operates in several South London boroughs) focuses on unused spaces that people tend to overlook, such as balconies, roof spaces and even windowsills and doorsteps. It particularly encourages members to use their front gardens, as it believes these are ‘dead spaces’ that are often paved over. This reduction in vegetation contributes to the heat island effect and increases stormwater run-off. Growing food in your front garden makes it possible to strike up conversations with your neighbours, argues Food Up Front, and easier to ask them to water your crops while you’re away (without the need for giving them a key).

Members pay a modest annual fee and in return are given a starter kit, advice (by email, phone or in person), seeds and the constant support of a local street rep. Don’t worry if you aren’t a green-fi ngered savant: about half of new members have never even grown a carrot before. Soon, however, they are eating their own salad, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, beans and cucumbers, say the network’s founders; all crops that are fairly easy to grow in limited space. Some have even grown potatoes and spinach on their balconies.

Food up Front

Sharing land and gardens

Sharing land is a simple but radical idea. It not only increases the opportunities to grow food locally, but also creates community spirit, encourages chemical-free gardening and discourages antisocial behaviour such as fly-tipping. In the long-term it can help us towards a lifestyle that is independent from oil.

The Adopt-A-Garden scheme was launched on the Isle of Wight in February 2008 and brings together people who own gardens they can no longer tend to (there are more than 3,000 on the island) with people looking for a space to grow food. Householders get their garden looked after for free and gardeners get a free allotment in return. Apart from reducing food miles, the scheme may have additional social benefits, says Ray Harrington-Vail of local environmental charity The Footprint Trust, which is co-ordinating the scheme.


A similar scheme was launched in the south Devon town of Totnes (also a Transition Town) in January 2008. The Garden Share project matches keen growers who don’t have a garden with those who have garden space they would like to share. ‘Keen growers’ means anything from couples, retired people or busy single mothers with no garden to students and groups of friends, explains Garden Share co-ordinator Lou Brown. The scheme has had 100 per cent positive feedback, says Brown, in part, she believes, because of the fact that she interviews and keeps a close eye on pairs (at least at first). This ensures that people who are not totally committed (gardeners have to work their piece of land three times a week at least in summer) or just looking for a free garden labourer, are put off. ‘By having a third party formalising the arrangement people start out with matching expectations and realistic boundaries for both parties.” All 24 gardening agreements are going ahead this year and new members are looking to join.

Transition Town Totnes

Another land-sharing venture is in the process of being set up by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, organic farmer, chef and TV personality extraordinaire. ‘Landshare’ aims to put people all over the UK who have unused gardens in touch with gardeners looking for space. For the moment, people are simply registering their interest as a grower, a landowner, a land-spotter or a facilitator (a volunteer willing to support elderly landsharers, or others who may require help). Once the initiative is up and running – in time for spring planting, say organisers – these people will be put in touch with each other. So far more than 20,000 people have registered.


Giovanna Dunmall is a freelance journalist


More urban food-growing schemes and useful links

Capital Growth

An ambitious grow-your-own scheme that aims to turn 2,012 unused patches of London land into plots for cultivating food in time for the 2012 Olympics. The website gets you started on how to find food-growing space in your area, how to get involved if you already have a food-growing space and other ways to volunteer. The website also includes a resources page with contact information for businesses and organisations supplying materials for food-growing projects.

Growing Real Organic Food in Urban Neighbourhoods in Bristol

GROFUN’s members turn local gardens into growing spaces by providing labour, expertise and tools. In exchange for having several volunteers at once work on your garden you take part in ‘action days’, providing labour in other people’s gardens or helping out with other useful gardening jobs. When harvested, produce grown in this way is shared equally between garden owners and volunteers. In the long term, the group wants to set up a local urban-grown vegetable box scheme.

Incredible Edible Todmorden

A project that aims to increase the amount of local food grown and eaten in the deprived West Yorkshire town of Todmorden. Businesses, schools, farmers and the community are all involved, and are transforming public flowerbeds into community herb gardens and vegetable patches. The produce is sold in local cafés and markets, and loyalty cards help fund the work. The town’s aim is to be self-sufficient in vegetables by 2018.

Project Dirt

An online community where people with environmental projects can interact. Trialling in south London but open to all.

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