City slickers make a beeline for the allotment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am


In the newspapers and weekend colour supplements everything has gone green - adverts, features, news. Not green in the political sense, but verdant.

Summer has arrived. Adverts for the Dunlopillo mattress are set in a fern-floored copse, Kolher bathrooms get a green makeover in a primeval forest, while even tins of Ronseal eco-floor varnish are stacked among moss-covered pines.

Fashion shoots are all outdoors, in flowering meadows, blooming gardens or under pergolas ripe with trailing purple wisteria.

Even if the torrential rain drenched outdoor prospects for the Whitsun bank holiday, the Evening Standard declared the onset of summer in the capital - confirmed last week at Chelsea, the Royal Horticultural Society's flower show.

Established in 1862 as the RHS Great Spring Show in nearby Kensington, it moved 50 years later to the Royal Hospital. For five days its lawns - 17,000 square metres of which are relaid each year - play host to 600 exhibitors from Zimbabwe to Australia to Sri Lanka. About 157,000 visitors quaff 49,000 glasses of Pimms and 5,000 bottles of champagne.

Put simply, Chelsea is to horticulture what Milan and Paris are to haute couture. Garden trends and fashion start here. This year, trend-spotters say, topiary is back.

Eco-conscious gardening is a topical theme, too, especially systems to recycle rainwater, such as porous concrete for driveways, which lets rainwater soak into the ground - a timely idea given plans in London to ban the paving over of front gardens for parking.

Londoners always flock to the Urban Gardens section, best of which this year went to Adam Frost's eye-catching front garden - although few Londoners have a front garden the size of Frost's

The most striking change, however, is the abundance of fruit and vegetables, a trend which, for once, did not start at Chelsea but in the street, or at least the humble terrace back garden.

Perhaps this is why Chelsea has garnered so much interest. Gardening, per se, with its earthy, organic, back-to-nature eco-credentials is 'In'. With house prices static, or slipping, dinner party gossip now focuses on plants and flowers, especially the edible variety.

Growing your own is cool. Those with gardens are turning soil over to food, reminiscent of the wartime campaign 'Dig for Victory'.

Allotments are bursting at the seams, filled especially with young women and mums. Spurred on by rising food prices, global food shortages and concern over food miles - how far food travels before you buy it, mums are anxious to grow healthy organic produce, chill out from urban life in a rural oasis and get a workout in the bargain.

The waiting list for an allotment has risen to 12 years in some boroughs. For the first time in decades, said The Observer, sales of vegetable seeds are outstripping those of flowers - 70-30.

Apparently, the thrill of eating what you have grown yourself far outweighs even that of buying the organic vegetable box delivered by firms such as Abel & Cole.

What's more, claim aficionados, people are growing varieties not sold for years, largely because they look the least appetising but in fact are the tastiest. The vegetables that look best, and keep freshest for longest on supermarket shelves, just don't taste as good. Tastes are indeed changing.

Tomorrow: Sydney