THEY are prized possessions among green fingered urban dwellers who desperately want to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

Gardeners are turning more and more to allotments in order to develop their own produce in city centres.

But as the gardening craze continues to flourish, there is now an average of 52 people waiting with trowel and spades for every 100 plots available.

Set in stone for more than a century, plots are traditionally sold at a set size of ten rods – or 252 square metres.

In Eastleigh, for example, applicants can expect to wait two to three years before they can plant bulbs.

But this week Hampshire gardening TV presenter Charlie Dimmock upset the applecart by suggesting that allotments be shrunk to allow more people to have them.

She suggested that plots could be halved or even quartered to reduce waiting lists – some of which are known to last years.

Despite the National Allotment Society saying around 90,000 more plots are needed, a backlash was formed against the former Ground Force star from Romsey with critics saying she should stick to garden ponds.

But Ms Dimmock said many people can’t cope with the size of the average plot which is being wasted.

In the gardening magazine interview she said: “A lot of plots are way too big for the average couple and if you halved them and halved them again, that would be more practical for many people.”

Sean James Cameron of The Horticultural Channel said if plots were any smaller they “wouldn’t be enough to feed the family dog, let along the family”.

Gardener, and Isle of Wight resident, Alan Titchmarsh has come to the defence of his fellow TV show presenter.

In Southampton, there are more than 1,700 allotment plots on 23 different sites around the city and in Eastleigh that figure stands at 303 at seven council-owned sites but both of these authorities are implementing policies to reduce the size of a patch.

Here in Hampshire, members of societies have been ambivalent about her remarks.

Sonia Blandford is treasurer and show secretary of the Southampton Allotment and Gardening Association.

She said for many young working people in Southampton they would struggle to maintain the larger plots due to time.

“It depends on how many people you’re feeding and how much time you’ve got.

“If you’re a family with children and you’re feeding relatives, a half plot possibly isn’t enough. But if you’re working a lot then you’re going to struggle to maintain a bigger plot. It’s fine for some people with a half plot, but for others it simple isn’t enough.

But if you’re growing things for a long time, such as potatoes, they need more room and they might take up a lot of space.”

Sonia, who grows a lot of food for her grandchildren at her Witts Hill plot in Southampton said that many people are attracted to gardening after watching shows on television.

He said: “People watch things like Monty Don and Alan Tichmarsh on the television. He will plant a row of lettuce and when he goes back to it, it’s all green and unspoilt from bugs.

“Some people haven’t gardened before and then they come in with unrealistic expectations.”

Mike Carr, an allotment holder at Moorgreen Road in West End echoed her thoughts.

He said: “There’s a lot of work that’s involved in getting an allotment going. It takes a lot of work in keeping it tidy.

“A lot of people who take up allotments don’t realise how much is needed to keep it running properly.”

To them is must be hard work and not getting much out of it because they aren’t prepared for it in the first place.”

Sizes of allotments plots have been laid down since before the First World War.

Authorities were first obliged to provide allotments, if there was a demand, in 1887. This law was strengthened in 1908 and since then 10 rods – or 252 square metres – is the standard measurement of a plot.

Despite the ruling, demand for allotments is as high as it ever was.

The former Ground Force star from Romsey also questioned what people were using allotments for.

“You used to fill up your freezer with runner beans. I’d string them as a kid for hours, but how many people do that nowadays? Now people want fresh and exotic, but if you grow three plants of fresh chillies you have too many. People with big plots are ending up covering half in matting to suppress weeds.”

Ted Ingram, trading secretary for Eastleigh and District Allotments Association said many plots are left “part wilderness” by gardeners who have taken on too large a plot.

He said: “There are people who take up plots but can’t keep maintaining but for whatever reason won’t give up.”

Mr Ingram added the sight of untidy, or empty plots at allotments makes him cross.”It means the sites are being managed properly.”

To stem this rise, Mr Ingram said that associations like his are accepting that the standard size of plots is now half of what it used to be and that in Chandlers Ford quarter size plots are dished out.

Yet this means that those gardeners who get a small plot find they are back on the waiting list because they want to take up more.