Broad Oak Park Allotment

Allotment gardens as a space of responsibility

A new article published in the journal Annals of the American Association of Geographers asks us to think about the types of responsibility that are being produced by community gardens and through community gardening.   Harvey Neo and Chengying Chua from the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore conducted research on community gardens in Singapore. They found that there are different types of responsibility that are being exercised in these spaces. It’s quite a thought-provoking idea. But what does this mean? Well, they distinguish two types of responsibility. Firstly, there is a garden-centric responsibility. This is through the mundane activities of maintaining a garden. We can all share in this experience. We take efforts to keep our plants alive and seek as best we can to maintain order, tidiness and keep weeds at bay. The lawnmower group drive the tractor around to make sure the plot is well-tended. Wood chips and carpet go down to minimise the unwanted proliferation of couch grass. A garden-centric responsibility can also extend to how we think of broader environmental or ecological responsibilities. So, some allotmenteers have bug hotels to support biodiversity. Others plant bee-friendly flowers to encourage the viability of this threatened species and in doing so support the work of bees as a pollinator. A garden-centric responsibility can go deeper, however, through better education and training. This can involve understanding the principles of good soil maintenance and drainage, the benefits of crop rotation and companion planting, and growing our skills as gardeners as we converse with and learn from our neighbours. These are all the types of skill that we can gain over time.


Secondly, Neo and Chua contend there is a community-centric responsibility. This is perhaps a more challenging idea to those of us who wish to take mainly private benefits from gardening. Ostensibly, what this form of responsibility boils down to is about recognising that community gardens or community-managed allotments are also social spaces. We are not just gardeners but are gardeners within a gardening community. More profoundly, community gardens may also have sets of social or environmental objectives that they seek to advance. For example, this may be through creating an inclusive atmosphere for all peoples, abilities and age groups. Or it could be through encouraging people with physical or learning disabilities to give gardening a go. These are aspects that are very present in our Tenancy Agreement, if you have cared to read the finer detail! But there is a deeper idea at work. This is the idea that gardeners are also making communities, growing communities if you will, alongside growing their plants. The two are cultivated together. I’ve certainly seen these aspects at work every time I’ve visited Broad Oak Park Allotments through the sense of friendship and camaraderie that permeates the site. We share in triumphs and gift gluts of produce to neighbours. And then we lend the hand of consolation or a shoulder to cry on to our fellow gardeners whose crops have been taken by blight….or badgers! The recent strawberry tea event saw these principles very much to the fore in the neighbourly and good-humoured way in which we shared food and stories. There are also aspects of community-centric responsibility that have become apparent in recent weeks. As plot-holders experience poor health or find their other commitments reduce the time they can spend tending their plot then other plot-holders come forth to lend a hand.


Thinking about allotments as a ‘space of responsibility’ may perhaps be stating the obvious, but it invites us to consider what our everyday responsibilities are and how best we can meet these responsibilities, whether this is to our plants and the species they support, or to our neighbours and fellow plot-holders.  Happy gardening!



Go Back