Still white

Mondays snow was gone from the pavements, but not so on the plot. We had been hoping to turn some soil, but everywhere was carpeted in a soft frozen white  blanket, punctured only by the occasional snow capped chicory or chard. Instead spent time chatting and shaking the heavier snowy caps from chards, beans and chicories. The plot was covered in hundreds of fox foot prints, and grey dirty patch of excavated soil next to the hole he/she had been trying to dig.


There wasn’t much going on, the birds preferring to sit, puff up and keep warm rather than waste their energy singing. We stayed for three quarters of an hour. It was Allan’s birthday, family and chocolate cake awaited him back down the hill.




Howard Sooley

King for a day

I received a small brown paper bag in the post containing three packets: one of gold, one of frankincense, and one of myrrh. These were part of an order from the Biodynamic Association for ‘Three kings preparation’.
Developed by German farmer Hugo Erbe in the wake of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a way of giving back to his land in order to restore the elemental beings. Like the Wise Men’s offering: gold, a symbol for worldly wisdom, frankincense, a devotional offering to the gods and myrrh, symbol for the victory of life over death. Whatever his reasons, our elemental beings seemed as if they could do with some attention, too.
On Three Kings day (Epiphany, January 6th, my birthday) I met with Allan at lunchtime on the plot to stir the preparation.
It was another mercifully mild and still day, slightly misty from the base of the cloud that nestled on top of Hampstead’s hill. The plot was looking good. Allan had cleared a lot of ground and somehow in that, loosened winter’s grip. The chicories, which to me had looked beyond salvation, had been cleaned of their slimy outer leaves, revealing small but healthy bright red hearts. Some of the soil had been turned too and the plot seemed to breathing more freely again. The gloom I had been feeling on my visits before Christmas had been put on the compost heap along with all the rotting leaves.
We ate some delicious sandwiches Polly had made for my birthday picnic and started the stir. I had previously ground and mixed all the ingredients (along with a little rain water) to make a stiff paste. We took a small amount and mixed it into a couple of litres of (thankfully) warmed rain water, then stirred, taking it in turns to make a continual vortex for an hour. The combination of the swirling vortex and the heady scent of the frankincense and myrrh was heavenly and mesmeric.
As the light started to fade, the preparation was sprayed around the plot. By the time we’d finished, we felt in a good place to start the new year and hopefully the plot did too.
Howard Sooley

The other place

Whisper it, but we have been away again, with our ‘other’ garden in Denmark for Christmas. It is not like the two are the same, after all. The allotment is small, perfectly formed (much of the time), amazingly fertile, sited in the heart of a major city, while the ‘summerhouse’ plot is sprawling, semi-wild, producing only what takes its whim, sitting on the windswept edge of the Kattegat sea on the east coast of Jutland.


What they share, perhaps, is a non-interventionist ideal, the conviction – if this doesn’t sound too fanciful – that some spaces are better left largely to their own devices. This of course is easier in Denmark than Branch Hill, where after all we want to grow crops, but the underlying ethos has echoes of each other. We have scattered annual seeds from favourite sustainable supplier Higgledy Garden ( and pods from an occasional wild lupin from a field nearby, but apart from spring tulips hidden in the bank (a ritual habit too hard to break), here we only plant trees.

I have written before about the powerful pull of growing something you know you will never see in its maturity, like a late child to an elderly man. But there is joy to be had in seeing a beech hedge take, the birch you planted five years ago soar six metres high, a larch sapling thrust powerfully towards the sky like a Jules Verne wooden rocket.

There isn’t much to ‘do’ as such, the pruning and trimming will come later when it is warmer, but every day we pooter around the plot, discovering new things, learning to look at the space with more open eyes. Mostly though we burn logs from the senile trees we replaced; we hang out seed balls for the myriad fluttering birds and we walk the beach, a tantalising 200 yards away.

We returned recharged, ready to take on the damage wrought by the pigeons, the saturated soil and cold on the allotment. This weekend is Epiphany and Howard’s birthday, there is work to do.

Allan Jenkins