Highgate Horticultural Society’s choice of a child to give out the prizes at the autumn flower show in September was a delightful innovation.

Six year-old Iris Holden, who has been contributing exhibits for several years, played her role perfectly at Highgate's United Reformed Church. A glittering skirt and gold trainers helped, as did her quick realisation that top prizewinner Gary Sycamore would keep coming back for more and more cups and need his hand shaken each time.

She also shook the hand of Roxane Stirling, Chairman of the Society, who won the Alice Allender award for Best Exhibit in Domestic Classes for her Victoria sponge, of which she remarked, “I owe my success to my darling Auntie Frankie who watches over me every time I make one!"Ham & High: Six year old Iris Holden hands out the prizes at the autumn show.Six year old Iris Holden hands out the prizes at the autumn show. (Image: Ruth Pavey)

The first exhibit that drew me to the many winners submitted by Steve Hooper and Mary Alexander was a beautiful blue/ grey pumpkin, a Whangaroa, as Mary identified. Like Mary, this pumpkin variety is from New Zealand. Another of their exhibits was even more unusual, a Plymouth Pear in bonsai form.

A tough but rare hedgerow plant, the Plymouth is our only native pear. It has tricky breeding habits and survives, barely, in pockets of Devon and Cornwall, so it was quite a surprise to come across it in Highgate.

A later visit and conversation with Steve and Mary at home in Crouch End revealed that getting a Plymouth Pear to add to Steve’s collection of native trees in bonsai form was not the work of a moment.

Ham & High:  Mary Alexander with her “Whangaroa” pumpkin at her Shepherds Hill Allotment Mary Alexander with her “Whangaroa” pumpkin at her Shepherds Hill Allotment (Image: Ruth Pavey)

The Plymouth Pear Recovery Programme has a reserve for them (not as bonsais) on a Cornish National Trust estate. Far from this reserve being a visitor attraction, careful arrangements and the unlocking of two gates were required to get near the roots and suckers that Steve was allowed to dig up. His bonsai work, making and caring for his collection of around 65 native trees, is nearly complete (the total of native trees in Britain is debatable, but is around that figure). Eventually the bonsais, including his favourites (blackthorn for its blossom, dogwood, oak, Plymouth Pear for its rarity) will pass into the safekeeping of Kew Gardens.

In 2019 Steve realised a long-held wish to have a small wood in which to experiment with supporting biodiversity. Mary, an ace record-keeper, has established a website www.blackwatercarr.com. All of which was intriguing, but I did want to return to the handsome whangaroa pumpkin of the Highgate Show, hence a trip to their allotment near Highgate Station.

The pumpkin plant has sprawled itself up and over the netting of a nearby fruit cage, where another of its progeny was lolling at its ease in the sun. Looking around the late summer profusion of the site, it was no surprise to hear that Steve and Mary did well at the show, including winning a cup for their beetroot.