Maintaining paths, edges and boundaries:
your ‘dos and don’ts’
You may think of the soil on your plot as the only bit which matters, but in fact the outside – the paths in between plots, the edges, and the site boundaries if they adjoin your plot – are equally important to keeping your plot in good shape and productive.
PATHS AND EDGES
Most paths are grass. There are main paths which are wide enough to get a vehicle down, and the narrow paths which run between plots, known as ‘baulks’. The council mows the main paths several times each summer. It is your responsibility to keep the baulks cut. It is also in your interest to do so. Many pests lurk in long grass, coming out at night to nibble your veg.
You should keep the grass cut reasonably short and cut the sides too, so long grass doesn’t overhang your beds or invade your plot.
DO use a lightweight strimmer (branded rechargeable battery ones are excellent, though unfortunately the B&Q own brand one is pretty useless), small push mower or shears to keep the grass neat.
DON’T use weedkiller on the edges. Many grass species form spreading mats and if you kill the bits invading your plot you will usually find great chunks of your path suddenly dying off too.
DO keep grass from invading your plot with a spade ot edging tool.
DON’T cut back into the path gradually till over time it becomes too narrow to stand a wheelbarrow on.
DO build up dodgy or flooded bits of path with soil and turf so you can go dry-shod even in wet weather.
DON’T cut drainage channels through the path or take lumps out to accommodate the corners of cold frames etc.
Paths between plots are supposed to be about 2ft wide. Of course, many have become eroded by precisely the process mentioned above. If you are able to rebuild your path to the proper width then do please do so!
You will probably want to make paths to divide your plot up. These can be made of anything moveable, such as turf, fine gravel, woodchip or small slabs. You shouldn’t use anything which may give rise to problems in the future, such as hardcore, large slabs or concrete.
BOUNDARIES AND HEDGES.
Your tenancy agreement says you are responsible for cutting any hedges which form part of your plot. The council sometimes says this means boundary hedges, then again maybe not. We would say that the site boundaries do not form part of your plot. Why? Because the council says you should keep a clear gap of 2ft between the edge of your soil and the boundary, which implies very strongly that the hedge isn’t part of your plot.
Of course, council funds are tight and hedge cutting isn’t high on their list of priorities. We strongly suggest you:
DO keep any hedges adjacent to your plot neatly cut back to the boundary line. The council is OK with this
DON’T cut back beyond the boundary line and
DON’T injure yourself or fall cutting back high bits you can’t easily reach.
DON’T tackle any tall tree; trees over 40ft tall MAY be the subject of a tree preservation order.
But of course –
DO report to the council (via your rep if possible) any dead tree, obviously diseased tree, or one where branches are in a dangerous position; in these cases the council will tackle either the tree or the landowner as there are different legal ramifications.
Whether or not the owner of a garden is obliged to cut back the other side of the hedge is something there are often arguments about. Realistically, in private gardens each owner usually cuts their own side as long as the hedge is well-maintained. This should be your general guide.
On many sites there are issues with hedges and trees which overhang plots and shade the soil. Legally, cutting these back to the boundary is backed by law. However, you can’t get at the tops so this means you can only remove overhanging growth, not the high stuff which is beyond the boundary line. This is an on-going problem on some sites and the council are understandably reluctant to get imbroiled in long legal wrangles with other landowners. However, the Ashford Allotment Society knows of several cases where action really should be taken and will continue to press the council to address the problem.
There are two sorts of fences; those provided by the council where allotments are next to roads, playing fields or other public areas, and fences to private gardens which are next to allotments.
Private landowners are not required by law to fence their land in any particular way. A single strand of wire attached to posts is considered to be a perfectly adequate legal boundary. Obviously most gardeners want more, but you can only remonstarte with them about the quality of their fencing if it is falling onto your plot, or if dogs or other animals are straying. In this case, you should go through the council.
Private landowners are, however, entitled to get access to the other side of their boundary to maintain it if they wish to, so you should not build sheds or compost heaps within 2ft of a garden boundary.
DO refer all problems and disputes to the council, ideally through your rep.
DON’T get involved in arguments with private landowners.
DON’T do work on private fences.
DON’T prevent private landowners from getting access to the other side of their fence.
Council fences vary in quality; some are secure boundaries and others are just a low wire fence. All sites have occasional problems with theft or vandalism, and all incidents should be reported to the police as well as to your rep. On some sites the council has increased security after serious problems – however you should be aware that high fences are incredible expensive and the council are going to be reluctant to replace low fences with high ones if they can avoid it.
DO report all damage to fences immediately to the council direct, by phoning or emailing the Allotments Officer firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01233 330528.
DO carry out safe, short-term repairs if the fence is in a dangerous or insecure state. Tell the council what you have been able to do.
DON’T add things such as barbed wire to existing council fences!