Books: Allan Jenkins, Plot 29

PUBLISHED: 16:38 13 March 2019

Allan Jenkins author of plot 29  at Branch Hill Allotments

Allan Jenkins author of plot 29 at Branch Hill Allotments

© Nigel Sutton

Plot 29 is an allotment at Branch Hill, Hampstead, but is also the name of a part memir part gardening diary by the editor of The Observer food magazine

Allan Jenkins author of plot 29  at Branch Hill AllotmentsAllan Jenkins author of plot 29 at Branch Hill Allotments

Plot 29 is an allotment at Branch Hill, Hampstead, but also the name of the book Allan Jenkins wrote about it (4th Estate, 2017).

It’s a parallel diary; with seeds, weather, early morning light, birdsong on one track, and memory and discoveries about a hard, fragmented childhood on the other.

Since this is a gardening column, seeds will be to the fore, but if you haven’t already, do read the book, its other theme is completely absorbing.

Allan edits the food magazine of The Observer. and it was competitive tomato growing among his colleagues that led to him seeking some land.

The idea was a shared growing project, but it soon became just him and the photographer, Howard Sooley. Getting a plot at Branch Hill is near impossible, so they are there courtesy of Mary, who needed some help to keep hers going.

When we visited on a bright late February morning, Allan was spreading out seed packets on a table, rather as though setting out cards for a game of patience.

These are not just any old seed packets. Allan says he quite obsessively collects seeds, favouring those from independent, organic growers, such as Brown Envelope Seeds from West Cork, Higgledy Flowers, from a barge on the Oxford Canal (really?) or Plants of Distinction, from Ipswich, because it’s worth supporting the hard work and love that goes into these enterprises.

He travels a lot, picking up seeds as he goes, for instance, from India. So far this year he has only sown nasturtiums, happy to wait for the year to progress a bit. Nasturtiums and marigolds are his talisman flowers from childhood, the ones he grew and cared for with his foster mother.

Thanks to some changes in the layout of the plot there are now two thin, but south-facing terraces, which Allan reckons will be good for nasturtiums, along with the garlic, shallots and broad beans already there. There was chard too, but the birds have been enjoying it. The plots at Branch Hill are all grown organically, with most wildlife welcome. When you add in to Allan’s methods the Maria Thun (Steiner inspired) Lunar Planting Calendar, the meditative dawn or dusk mixing of nettle or comfrey tea, an openness to the idea of green fingers, a disregard for planning-on-paper and a feeling that the plot needs company, you begin to appreciate that there is more going on here than straight food production. He and his family eat everything he grows, but this is not just about eating, it is a whole approach to life. To hear of someone doing so well after a tough start is unusual, and if planting nasturtium seeds at 5-years-old played its part, let’s keep on trying to get the children started with seed packets….


Spring Flower Shows

Muswell Hill Horticultural Society, Saturday April 6, 3.00 pm, North Bank, Pages Lane, N10 1PP

Highgate Horticultural Society, Saturday, April 13, 2.00 – 5.00 pm, United Reformed Church, South Grove, Highgate, N6 6BA

GRAND PLANT SALE, Saturday May 4, 10.00am – 3.30pm, St. Michael’s School, North Hill, Highgate, N6 4BG

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