A tale of two allotments

Hampstead Garden Suburb Allotment

Hampstead Garden Suburb Allotment - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Ruth Pavey compares her longstanding Highgate plot to one recently taken on in Hampstead Garden Suburb by the Ham&High’s much loved photographer Nigel Sutton

Ruth's Highgate Allotment © Ruth Pavey

Ruth's Highgate Allotment © Ruth Pavey - Credit: Archant

Nigel Sutton, the Ham & High photographer of many years, has taken on an allotment in Hampstead Garden Suburb for the first time this January, while I have had one at Highgate Allotments for decades.

His was practically clear when he started, mine was not, his intention is to grow vegetables, mine to grow flowers as well. Taking pleasure in the respective sites is something we have in common, but I suspect we differ about neatness.

Come later summer, it will be a surprise if his, with the historic shared shed in the background, is not a scene of smiling order.

I saw Nigel’s plot before the lock-down, and could not help envying its uncluttered quality. Apart from some soft fruit it was a blank canvas … on the surface, at least. It has not taken long to discover the white looping roots of bindweed, or to hear from the plot’s former tenant that it was bindweed drove him from it.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Allotment

Hampstead Garden Suburb Allotment - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Early in the rainy spring, Nigel was already out, dispatching any weeds that were presuming to spread, of which the main one was common avens.

Now he has planted potatoes, sown broad beans and parsnips. And he is on to the bindweed….

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My plot was already going wild when my friend Margaret Jarvie said it was vacant (there was no waiting list then). Ben, the former plot-holder, had had a stroke. A whole gardening year had passed before he knew he could not return to it.

The further bed in the photo, with bright green feverfew, was Ben’s stone patch. Margaret was unsure exactly what he did there, soil sterilization, perhaps.

Whatever it was, it involved incinerators, burnt earth, old vinyl flooring, plastic and broken glass. All these years later, his stones and broken glass are still plentiful. More helpfully, so are his red currant bushes.

The bed with the fork handle is full (overfull) of stachys, cephalaria, echinops and michaelmas daisies taken from Margaret’s plot, when she, too, knew she had to give up, and the rhubarb on the left came from Michael Donagher’s, for the same reason. So, among the potatoes, beans, dahlias and roses I grow on purpose, memories, it seems, have taken root.


* Left-over seeds from the last few years are worth sowing. Some will grow.

* It sounds like gardens are being better cultivated than ever – but remember that long grass, piles of wood and a bit of overgrown muddle are vital for the insects and minibeasts of a healthy ecosystem.

* The National Gardens Scheme website (ngs.org.uk) is full of enjoyable videos of gardens that would have been open. Normally, visitors’ admission fees support nursing charities. Without them, the NGS is anxiously seeking donations.

* The Royal Horticultural Society is running a virtual Chelsea Flower Show from its website, rhs.org.uk

* Some local garden centres are still offering limited services. They’re so busy they don’t want any publicity but here’s hoping they will reopen soon.