Earthly Paradise: people and landscapes on allotments

These photographs are a selection from a series taken on Oxford’s allotments in the 1980s  and drawn from an exhibition held at the beginning of 1991 at the Photographers Workshop in Oxford entitled ‘Earthly Paradise: people and landscapes on allotments’. The original exhibition had a wider focus than Oxford. The exhibition toured to a number of  community centres, sports centres, GP surgeries, and the like, in Oxfordshire during 1991-92 under the auspices of Oxford Photography.

At the time I had a very young daughter (who appears in a couple of the pictures here), a keen interest in allotments and vegetable growing, and an interest in the ways that allotments reflect changes in society in microcosm, such as the way the scarecrows donned successively, the work wear of the different owners of the car factory up the road, British Leyland, British Aerospace, Honda and later, BMW.

So photography in this context could be readily combined with looking after my daughter and letting her explore nature, the natural sociability and mutuality of an allotment site, and tending my crops. I was also at the time a serving councillor on Oxford City Council and chaired its Allotments sub-committee. This took me around many of the sites in Oxford, on occasion with relevant officers and the Lord Mayor, producing some quirky pictures. The final section here relates to the mental health charity Restore. I was a Trustee at the time and it was heavily involved with the establishment of a therapeutic growing project on a largely abandoned allotment site. This set of photos shows its early days and early successes in healing people through growing. It is still there and thriving.

About ten of the pictures here (with other later photos) were used in the  edited collection of Michael Hyde’s allotment columns for The Guardian, City Fields, Country Gardens, published in 1998 by Five Leaves Press. About half a dozen were featured in the late Roger Deakins’ Anglia TV programme ‘The ballad of the ten rod plot’ broadcast in 1992. His work on that programme and subsequent writings on the natural world had a major influence on the emergence of modern ‘nature writing’.

Click on each ’tile’ to see the full picture.


Children (and a few adults)