Open Garden Squares Weekend: Branch Hill Allotments

 

 

What a lovely weekend it was and how long ago it now seems! Open Garden Squares Weekend was 18th and 19th June. Through a scheme called Remixed Borders, a collaboration between London Parks and Gardens Trust and The Poetry School a handful of poets were collected and then scattered across gardens all over London to write poetry and engage with those who use the spaces every day and those visiting just for the weekend.

I was very lucky to be sent to Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead. Look at my little profile on the website! I chose this garden as I live nearby in North London and Hampstead has always been a favourite place of mine. I was attracted  to the allotments because of the history of the area, the site was once part of the gardens to an Edwardian mansion owned by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership. As an ex John Lewis shopboy I was very happy to be part of the site’s history. John Constable lived nearby and painted a view across the allotments, John Keats wandered the area when it was still part of Hampstead Heath, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived down the road. Poets and painters were everywhere!

 

I made a handful of visits before the open weekend, these were arranged with Annie, my contact at the allotments. The site is on quite a funny corner, a little downhill from a handsome gatehouse which used to serve the manor house, there are black iron railings and only a the noticeboard inside the site lets on that this is the allotments. Annie would meet me at the gate and unlock it to let me in. We’d then stroll down the hill with the site unfolding to our right. The plots range in size and shape, they respond to the natural undulations of the land as the ground slopes down to the bottom lefthand corner, which was a pond in the past. I walked circuits of the allotments, thinking about the space, about what I saw, the huge crops of rhubarb, the bee hives. I especially loved seeing all the repurposed recycled, plastics and wood, reused on plots. Old kitchen sieves used to protect fruit from the foxes, fish netting to cover raspberries. All the compost bins full of homewaste with a whole little world of worms living in there. I chatted to those who were gardening (but was very careful not to disturb anybody and extra careful to not offer to shake anyone’s hand while they were wearing their gardening gloves, you only make that mistake once!) I loved the peace of the site and felt really priviledged to visit and write there.

 

 

Over the weekend I sat at a lovely table in the far corner of the site, meeting most visitors half way on their wander around, I chatted with lots of people about poetry and my time writing about the allotments. I gave out postcards which had poems on the back and print offs of the poems I had written about the allotments. Visitors were very kind and interested in my work and many were very happy with the postcards. I think I have around 6 left of the 50 I ordered.

The Remixed Borders project was such a wonderful opportunity for me and something I am so grateful to have been selected for. I’ll always be proud of my allotment residency as this was the first time I’ve undertaken a poet in residence scheme. I feel I have made connections with people at the allotments that will last and have also made friends with my fellow remixed borders poets.

This is one of my poems, Land

 

 

Land

 

London is a marsh knitted together by rivers.

It is valleys with sharp hillsides and rocky outcrops.

Deep woodland that mulches autumn leaves

through spring and summer.   

 

London is this quiet combe

you walk into for protection.

A steady valley, where you can go

to watch time pass from week to week

watching the onions blossom,

and the carrot tops rocketing upwards

into a row of lofty green fireworks.

Watch how the rhubarb leaves spread out

like floating parachute silk. Hiding

The scraped-knee red of the stalks underneath.

 

London is land on which you can grow.

Land that is soft under your feet.

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