A more-than-seasonal scurry of activity is afoot at Highgate Allotments because, post pandemic, formal plot inspections are back.

Our Site Secretary has circulated notes of Haringey’s expectations of its allotment tenants across the borough. They touch on a discussion concerning weeds, cultivation and wildlife that Monty Don, introducing the Chelsea Flower Show, describes as continuing "to rumble on".

The show gardens of 2023 were alive with the wildlife-friendly message of waving grasses, Sweet Rocket, buttercups and bees, artfully introduced and owing nothing to neglect.

Ham & High: Highgate allotments are alive with bees and wildlifeHighgate allotments are alive with bees and wildlife (Image: Ruth Pavey)

Haringey, understandably, is not in favour of neglect.  It expects 75 per cent of a plot’s area to be cultivated, with lawns or ponds not counting as cultivation (although we know that ponds do require looking after, and are great for wildlife).  The remaining 25 per cent is allowed for sheds, greenhouses, paths, etc. Here is the instruction about wildlife areas: "Conserving wildlife is an important function of allotments but an uncultivated area just left to go wild is not acceptable on any part of the plot."

Hmm…, that instruction rather contradicts advice (often from the gardening press or the Royal Horticultural Society) not to be too tidy, to let invertebrates settle into old wood, allow some nettles to provide food for caterpillars, and not to mow the grass till the end of May.

Ham & High: Bees enjoy the plants at Highgate AllotmentsBees enjoy the plants at Highgate Allotments (Image: Ruth Pavey)

The truth is, wildlife is much in favour of neglect.  If our allotments are to have no spots sequestered from human intervention, it makes it harder for the creatures we favour, as well as those we don’t, to find somewhere to live.  Habitat loss is key to the decline of many species, including the creepy crawlies that are unglamorous but still contribute to keeping the natural world going.

Is Haringey’s "not acceptable" perhaps relative, as on notices about bad behaviour in schools or on the bus ... a pointer towards the good rather than an expectation that it will be followed to the letter?

I hope so, because wildlife abounds at Highgate Allotments now.  An early evening walk round in late May showed that bumblebees were busiest on self-sown comfrey, and white moths were fluttering only around the nettles.  It also, admittedly, revealed scenes less aesthetic than those Cleve West created in his Chelsea garden for the Homeless charity, Centrepoint. But surely, to evict the toads, grasshoppers or beetles in pursuit of 75 per cent weed-free cultivation would be an own goal?

Things To Do

Still on the subject of ponds and wildlife, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff is opening her garden for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) at 17 Nassington Road, NW3, on Sunday June 4, 2 – 6pm.  An inspirational “large eco” pond, plus some intriguing home grown offers for tea.

Also on June 4 but with complete contrast in plant material, Steven Buckley and Liz Roberts open their exotic garden of cycads, aeoniums, bamboos etc at 11 Park Avenue North, Crouch End, N7RU.

Highgate Horticultural Society will have a stand at the "Fair in the Square" Pond Sq, Highgate Village, on Saturday June 10.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society’s Summer Flower Show is on Sat June 10, 2 – 5pm, Free Church Hall, Northway, NW11 6PB.