Having written about the development of an allotment in my last blog, I quite by chance discovered that last Sunday was also the final day of National Allotment Week. What better way to participate than to call in on the Marsh Lane Allotments in Tottenham on our drive down to London where plot 94 was open for the NGS. I would also like to dedicate this blog to my good friend Claire, an experienced allotment holder of many years who lives in Suffolk and whose birthday it is today.
There was just enough room to park our car in the bay near the gates where we stepped over a huge pile of rubbish that had gathered on the pavement, before walking through the metal gates.
Two charming girls collecting the money on the gate directed us through the maze of allotments, nearly a hundred here, to the plot occupied by Chris. Notices advised us that we were welcome to walk around the site and look at the other plots but we were not to enter unless invited. We headed straight on, passing rows and rows of vegetables, and a jumble of huts turning right at the green one marked with red arrows and then made a beeline for the yellow balloons in the narrow distance.
Under the foliage of the spring flowered akebia quinata we found the allotment gate was open…
Inside the entrance, shaded by a confusion of climbers, a summer jasmine still in flower grows over an archway,
and a plum tree, laden with fruit.
The narrow shingle path draws us further in and we walk between, not rows of vegetables but well established shrubs and perennials packed in on either side;
colouring acer leaves combine with ripening pears, hanging so temptingly,
and a little further on a display of red-tinged miscanthus grass.
Chris originally occupied one of the other allotments but moved to this one seven years ago because he wanted the wall that runs along the side. The ground was in a terrible state; he cleared the grass and bindweed. Next door the evangenical church was consumed by the bus company who made their presence felt by raising the ground level of the station by some eight feet.
The centre piece of the allotment is not a bus but a rusting and elegant gazebo reaching up into a canopy of fig trees.
On one side is a decorative panel through which we can see a mature fig, once a cutting taken from Chris’s mother’s tree.
The existence of London transport does not take away from the fact that this is an allotment full of fruit; an unusual weeping mulberry has already shed its fruit.
and the apples are ripening, green and red.
High up are the noble fruits of quince,
and the persimmon are yet to turn golden.
Flowers mingle with fruit and the pink petals of a clematis dance out from amongst the apples,
there is an explosion of pink loosestrife lythrum,
and an intriguing coloured hydrangea.
An allotment here costs about £150 a year to rent, and the size is measured in poles; a pole is the equivalent to roughly 5 metres. A full plot like this is ten poles. Through tubs of amaranthus the little ceramic figure hugging its knees signifies we have reached the full ten,
and along the back fence is a thick hedge of ripening thornless blackberries which marks the boundary.
Looking back are pots of colourful climbing annuals; on one side is the exotic rhodochiton from Mexico,
and on the other is the Brazilian ipomoea lobata or mina lobata, with its cascading flowers, scarlet at the tip and fading to cream.
As we return, the air is filled with the scent of lavender and we encounter a collection of pots which include such favourites as ceratostigma,
and a chinese red fern.
By the shed the solanum has flowered and is displaying an abundance of inedible fruit,
whilst delicious bunches of grapes hang down through which the view is leafy and exotic. It is a calming space and hard to believe we are in Tottenham, once a scene of riots and unrest.
The onions drying will have come from a neighbouring allotment holder; they are a friendly community here and we head off to find teas and sample the cake made by Chris’s sister.
Teas are served right over on the other side of the allotments beyond where a rich red canna flowers colourfully. The table and chairs are recycled from the cafe across the road,
Rules about sizes of sheds seemed to be ignored here and this sizeable lean-to shed provides a little cover today.
No electricity means a little improvisation, and this Turkish burner is hot water back-up.
We find honey for sale too, the hives are kept across the highway beneath a huge pylon on the ground that was once marshland.
To end our afternoon Jane, an embroiderer shows us her nearby allotment where on a table she has an assortment of jars containing a collection of natural dyes with which she colours her materials.
This has been an insight into a community bound together by horticulture and hard work. 30% of the allotment holders are of Turkish origin but there is also a vibrant Jamaican fraternity. These guys proudly explain the merits of calaloo, a type of spinach which they grow. It can be a struggle to compete with the mares tail, a persistent weed and a reminder that this area was once marshland.
It has been a fascinating and memorable experience. We have learned much about the culture and cultivation of allotments. A lesson too in recycling. We have been entertained in this productive place and coming away with a smile we also bear gifts of courgettes and apples.