32 allotments are arranged across the combe in the land, where it descends and forms a small hollow below the old gatehouse, and they can be spotted by peering through the iron gates on the corner of Oakhill Way, Branch Hill and Frognal. When I visited in November, the winter’s manure for next year’s vegetables had just been delivered and had been distributed amongst the plots. Like much on the plot, the gardeners plan collectively and share the costs of gardening.
William Tanner, Chair of the Branch Hill Allotments Association, will open the iron gates for you to see the plots, should you pass by when he is there digging. The gates were built with left-over iron fencing from Russell Square. The tenants are aware that they should share their fortune with others, and do so readily, not only on the Open Garden Squares Weekend. There are only 200 individual allotments plots in Camden and waiting lists are long closed. Branch Hill has 500 on its waiting list. Schools visit regularly, and there are many friends of the allotments who help out.
They also take seriously safeguarding the local wildlife. Along the length of the site, a corridor of green, wild woodland is kept, a borough site of nature conservation importance, as part of Camden’s biodiversity plan. Beehives, both the old traditional wooden variety and the modern plastic sort, are scattered around the edges of the plot. Many of the honey bees died after last year’s cold winter, but have now been nurtured back and restocked. And down in the bottom of the combe lies a wildlife pond, created from the boggy marshland created by the old Westbourne River. It’s all delightful, from the plot of a recently deceased founder (Don Hill), which is now lovingly maintained by another tenant until it is reallocated, and from the autumnal peace of the wildlife areas to the bustle of spring and summer conversations and activities. It’s well worth a visit next June.