With the number of allotments in the UK rising to an estimated 330,000 this year and the average age of plotholders coming down, more and more of us are rolling up our sleeves and growing our own. We caught up with Valerie Stokes, resident at our Sandford Station retirement village, about her raised allotment beds, the benefits of an active lifestyle at 95 and top tips for first-time gardeners.
“As a child I lived here in Sandford and my mother was the headmistress of Sandford School, so I’m really a local. Then, of course, when the war came I volunteered to go nursing and was away because we all had to do war work. It was during the war that I got married - he was stationed at Banwell Castle just up the road - and we later moved back to the area.
I was the eldest of seven children and was in charge of much of what went on in the family. My mother was a keen gardener and we produced all of our own food. She had an orchard and we grew everything - she even grew beets to produce sugar because it was wartime. She bred rabbits, chickens and ducks for our meals, we even had goats and we children had to take our turns looking after them. We were absolutely self-sufficient. We were taught to grow everything and that started from my childhood really. We were gardeners, all of us, and my children are all gardeners too - I brought them up the same way.
In my raised allotment beds here I grow carrots, cabbages, lettuce, radishes, onions and all the usual spring stuff. I’m still using them now and also have a whole bed of sprouting broccoli. A couple of months ago I went up to the allotment and found that a deer had eaten one of my cabbages, but I have eaten all the others. We’ve since fenced it all in!
It’s very good for the brain too, concentrating on something and looking after something that’s alive. It’s part of life, isn’t it?
I’ve lived here for 7 years and it was very simple getting the allotment. I just mentioned it at one of the residents’ meetings and they found me one. I had a very big place in Shipham where I lived for 35 years and when I came here I thought, ‘What am I going to do without my garden?’ I shared a garden with another lady for a few years and then got the allotment. I thought, ‘I can’t be without something to grow!’ It’s part of my life – I had to do it. I think it’s a source of relaxation for me. It’s very good for the brain too, concentrating on something and looking after something that’s alive. It’s part of life, isn’t it? You could sit and not bother – go to sleep or watch TV – but I’d rather be active and do things.
If I could give a first-time gardener any advice, it would be to start off growing easy, quick things. Don’t start off with things that take a year to do something. Try things like lettuce, even carrots, which sprout quite quickly. Just plant the seeds that seem to grow quite quickly and that encourages you to keep on going out and watering them. Start with the easy things; don’t think that you can suddenly grow everything. Start small. You have to be patient. And enjoy it – enjoyment is a big thing and it’s a great enjoyment to see what you’ve produced. I enjoy it so much, it’s like new life.”
Valerie Stokes, Sandford Station Resident
Sandford Station is a rural retirement village on the edge of the village of Sandford, North Somerset. This distinctive countryside community offers a special combination of stylish purpose-built accommodation, beautiful scenery and superb facilities. To find out more about Sandford Station, including properties available now, visit the main retirement village page.