Time was, on allotments, straight rows of vegetables were the thing. 

If there were flowers at all - for “the wife”, or for showing - they too, would be in rows, because plants need to be kept in order. Or so the majority of plot holders thought, of whom few were women.

But over the decades attitudes have been changing. Looser, more individual styles have arrived - often resulting in gardens harder to maintain than the straight row regime.

Highgate Allotments now has many women plot holders, and a bushier overall look. Allotment gardening, a mishmash of the private and the communal, requires restraint … No Trespassing. But from the paths, a cat may look at a king, and thus I have long admired a plot that is only partly visible from the shared road.Ham & High: Snowdrops are out at Sara Jolly's allotmentSnowdrops are out at Sara Jolly's allotment (Image: Nigel Sutton)

Shielded by two mature apple trees, with only glimpses through the branches, there is always a beguiling display of groundcover plants in full view at one’s feet. Throughout the past few weeks it has been super-beguiling, with snowdrops, crocus and cyclamen.

And I have at last met Sara Jolly, whose plot it has been for thirty years. Diversifying from her usual work as a film-maker, she has started volunteering in the communal shed.

It was over the purchase of manure that I realised she was the mistress of the snowdrops and crocus, and exchanged barrowing to listening to the story of her plot. The apple trees, Cox and James Grieve, were saplings when she took over. She started planting flowers because she loves them and only has a shady courtyard garden at home. She adds to the snowdrops every so often, planting them “in the green”, ie about now, which works better than planting bulbs in autumn. Ham & High: Sara Jolly on her allotmentSara Jolly on her allotment (Image: Nigel Sutton) 

Shimmying in past the apples reveals a series of small interventions, a pond, the Best Shed (for sitting, watching the birds, nurturing the auriculas) the Second Best Shed for tools, a vine and an Albertine rose, a greenhouse, for bringing on Sara’s beloved sweet peas, a mixed native hedge planted twenty years ago, now thick and muddled and loved by birds, a flourishing witch hazel full of pale yellow flowers. 

In short, just the sort of poem one hopes for, hidden behind a veil of branches.


A child of Camden Garden Centre and its ethos as a social enterprise employer, The Plant Room opened in Richmond in 2021. 

Manager Peter Hulatt wanted both to expand the chance of helping people into work, and to respond to the huge current interest in indoor gardening, with its benefits to wellbeing. The choice of Richmond came after fruitless searching in North London, but with easy access by train. 

Stuffed with indoor plants and some seasonal outdoor ones, the shop is full of delights, including an unexpectedly large lower floor offering books, mirrors, decorative pots, and tools.  Peter says they also run workshops and talks, citing a recent one about making, planting and maintaining a terrarium. "It’s all on the website and Instagram,” he says.

The Plant Room, 114 Sheen Road, Richmond.