Allotments have long been the must-haves of the eco-conscious, health-aware generation keen to get back to nature and grow their own food.

To mark National Allotments Week (August 14-20), allotment groups across the UK will be opening their gates and holding barbecues, plant and produce sales, allotment tours, competitions and exhibitions, coffee mornings and afternoon teas - many of them raising funds to support local charities.

Why are allotments so popular?

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"There's a lot of interest in food, and a growing awareness of children not knowing where their food comes from other than the supermarket, so I think families see getting an allotment as a way of remedying that. It's also a fantastic way of getting outside and doing something together," explains Di Appleyard of the National Allotment Society (www.nsalg.org.uk).

Councils are still increasing their allotment provision - but how easy is it to secure a plot?

Where you live matters

"Waiting lists vary a great deal across the UK or even across a city, and whether you are prepared to travel or clear an overgrown plot," Di says.

"Put your name on the waiting list at your local council. There are massive waiting lists in some areas, but in others you only wait a few months. The site I'm on in Bristol is very popular and has a four-year waiting list, but if you are prepared to travel a mile down the road, you could get there tomorrow."

Alternatively, people can look for a private site on the internet - but they are harder to find. If a site you are aware of is not on the council list, go to the site itself and speak to the people there, who are often there at weekends. Find out owner and website details.

Think about what you're taking on

"It's rare that you'll get a choice of plots as you will be offered the next plot that comes free, but it's important to think about how much spare time you have and your level of skill. For example, a novice gardener working full time may well struggle with a full-size plot (250 square metres)," she says. "That's a lot of space for somebody working full time."

Sometimes you may have a choice, especially if a plot-holder who has neglected the plot has been asked to leave. But this will mean you're stuck with an allotment which will need a lot of TLC. Most councils offer half plots.

Facilities available

The only obligation the council has is to supply a piece of land. However, most provide water from a dipping trough rather than a standpipe. Sheds are mainly down to the individual and some sites don't allow sheds. Many plot-holders use half-size plastic sheds to house their tools. More sites, particularly those managed by an association which can fund-raise, are getting toilets.

What my allotment means to me

Journalist Ella Walker, 29, from London, and her boyfriend Sam, took over part of Sam's father's allotment near their home, which hadn't been used for about three years. Each plot has its own shed, taps and water butts and there are shared wheelbarrows.

"It was a mess. We had to dig it all up, which is still an ongoing process, but we inherited a couple of apple trees and three rhubarb plants," she recalls.

"Before we got into gardening, we'd been growing chilli plants on our windowsill and filled our window boxes with herbs, but we wanted more space. There was no chance of us getting a garden, so an allotment seemed the next best thing.

"It's just so lovely going there. You feel you've escaped from reality. A couple of hours disappear and your brain just empties."

They are now growing blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb, kale, leeks and strawberries. Another allotment holder has given them two vines.

"Making time for it is the hardest thing," she agrees. "I try to go once a week, but if I miss a week, it's very demoralising because all the weeds have come up.

"It's very sociable though - everyone chats. There's a Portuguese collective and they've all got plots together and they're always out cooking sardines. And because we were new and the youngest people on the plot, everyone always gives us tips, whether we want them or not!"

National Allotments Week runs from August 14-20. Find details of open days and events across the UK on the society's website www.nsalg.org.uk and on the National Allotments Week Facebook page www.facebook.com/nationalallotmentsweek/