The Big Allotment Challenge


A couple of years ago, I was with my sister, discussing TV programmes. We both loved the Great British Bake Off, and she had got into the Sewing Bee. Although we both like the idea of gardening (she’s much better at it than I), we weren’t too keen on Gardener’s World.

“What we need,” I said, “is an allotment challenge. Like the Bake Off, but with vegetables.”

I know this conversation definitely took place, because last month, she texted me: “There is a new programme coming to BBC2 about allotment challenge – like you suggested would be a good idea for a programme last year.”

So, just before Easter, I sent Tim out to the pub, and I settled down for an hour of TV heaven.

For the last 5 weeks, I have been hooked every week, as pairs of gardeners battle it out to win ‘Best in Show’ in produce, flowers, flower-arranging and making preserves. Each week, one couple have to leave, and the others are left to the mercy of the elements and the slugs as they try to grow the best fruit and vegetables around.

Comparisons have inevitably been drawn to the Great British Bake Off, and the show’s producers seem to have encouraged this with the innuendo in the voice-overs. But why not? It’s a winning formula, and I loved the bunting, the mugs of tea and those gorgeous greenhouses.

As with the Bake-Off, the contestants are the most interesting parts of the show. I loved Jo and Avril, a down-to-earth all-girl pair. And I’m sure most viewers will remember Gary and Pete, who seemed to stop shaving in Week 1, and whose beards grew almost as prolifically as the plants. Ed and Alex seemed a bit too sure of themselves to start, but by the end, they were definitely the deserved winners.

As someone with no interest in flower arranging whatsoever (isn’t that what posh women did in the 1980s?), I didn’t expect to enjoy the “Make” challenge at all. This was what the contestants seemed to like least as well. But Rupert and Dimi really excelled at it, and I found myself loving their blousy, vintage style.

The “Eat” challenge did really appeal to me, even though I have never even attempted to make preserves of any kind. The BBC have listed the best recipes on their website, so now we can all have a go. Although, it might be worth just looking at the Best in Show ones, as there were definitely some disasters on the way! I personally want to have a go at picalili, which is something I really like.

But the stand-out element of the Big Allotment Challenge were surely the allotments themselves. I’m sure the contestants were encouraged to think about the aesthetic aspects as well as the practical, and their patches were stunning. Set in a beautiful walled garden, and with a lovely combination of fruit, vegetables and flowers, along with the aforementioned greenhouses, they were the star of the show. To be honest, I’d love a copy of the list of 83 plants they had to grow, along with site plans of each of the allotments. I don’t even own an allotment!

I seriously hope the BBC gives this another series, as planting should be well underway by now!

By Naomi

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