Logo

How a Cypriot gardener has turned a Tottenham allotment into a Mediterranean paradise

PUBLISHED: 06:00 31 July 2014

Chris Achilleos at his 'Secret Garden' Allotment in Tottenham

Chris Achilleos at his 'Secret Garden' Allotment in Tottenham

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Our gardening correspondent Ruth Pavey has for years explored the gardens of the Ham&High community. This week, she finds a hidden treasure amongst industrial landscapes of Tottenham

PLANT IN FOCUS: Hydrangea macrophylla

What a gift hydrangeas are to the late summer garden. Inevitably, the ones that produce such glorious blues in Devon came out pink here, due to the pH of the soil. I did try using the aluminium sulphate preparation for changing pink flowers to blue, but failed. However, I have noticed blue flowered hydrangeas in various Highgate locations where few are surely diligent with colourant. That could mean that the soil is more acidic, or perhaps the plants are of a variety that can still come blue, even with a pH of 7.0. One of those plants is along the common bank of my allotment site, so I mean to try some cuttings from it. Its blue is very far from the brilliant blues of Devon – but there we are, one of things gardeners learn is that you can’t have everything.

Visiting someone’s allotment, you usually have an idea of what to expect. Although the balance between vegetables, flowers, fruit, weeds and sheds is a personal matter, there is still a degree of predictability.

But Chris Achilleos’s plot on Marsh Lane Allotments, Tottenham, is more surprising than most … not so much an allotment as a walled garden.

As in the children’s story, there is a locked wooden door between it and the outside world.

I am not going to describe the area into which you enter and get a first glimpse, because Chris is opening his allotment for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday, August 10, and any first time visitor deserves the same chance of amazement.

However, if you watch Gardeners’ World on August 1, you will see a feature about it that took a whole day to film, so whether any surprise will outlive that is questionable.

It may well, since being in a garden and watching it on tv are such different experiences.

Flourishing

Chris was born in a beautiful mountainous area of Cyprus, from which his father eventually persuaded his mother to bring the children and join him in Tottenham.

There, like so many of her compatriots, she planted a garden to remind her of home.

Some of the varieties of fig she introduced are now flourishing on Chris’s allotment, a place she loves to visit.

At first, Chris had another plot on the allotment site but he swapped to his current one six years ago because of the wall.

It is a good, dark, brick wall with a look of railway engineering and forms the most solid part of the four-sided enclosure of the plot.

The wooden door is let into a more typical allotment structure, part shed, part former greenhouse, and the other two walls are so clothed in vegetation I failed to notice how they are made – of fencing, perhaps. Within this space, says Chris, a microclimate has developed, allowing earlier ripening and the flourishing of insects and frogs.

Bindweed

When Chris took over the plot, it was full of rubbish and bindweed, with only some existing plum and pear trees to its credit.

He dug out and burnt the bindweed before establishing the different areas, structures and beds of his new interior.

He put down light-excluding membrane with pea shingle or bark chip for the paths and brought in many big pots.

He says that the whole thing – clearing, structuring, planting – took a year and that now “it doesn’t need work, just looking after”. All of which is a great achievement.

I was particularly struck by the thought of it not needing work – even allowing for some poetic licence, that is a testament to the value of getting things well sorted before planting.

There are some vegetables tucked in, some specimen trees in pots, some appealing mosaics and a life-enhancing pond, but essentially this is a garden of fruit (for example, mulberry, persimmon, fig, goji berries, apricots, apples, blackberries, blueberries, plums, pears) and flowers (for example, akebia, salvia, persicaria, lavender, agapanthus, lilies, thalictrum, tropaeolum, sedum).

When I remarked on the absence of roses, Chris said that roses didn’t really go with the style he was after, that he had “tried to make it a bit Mediterranean”.

That is a modest way to describe a special, beautiful place, secluded within a Tottenham landscape of main road, railway, marsh and industrial premises. Well worth seeing.

94 Marsh Lane Allotments, corner of Marsh Lane and Marigold Road, opposite Northumberland Park station, N17, will be open Sunday, August 10, from 2pm to 6pm, with teas and plants on sale.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ham&High. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Hampstead Highgate Express