London’s Blooming: Gardens Blooming on the Tube – Photo Essay | London Underground

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The first official garden appeared on a London Underground station more than a century ago. Now there is an annual Underground In Bloom competition, run by Transport for London (TfL), for the many stations that go green.

With plants grown in everything from used mayonnaise pots to old lunch boxes, makeshift station gardens are springing up around the capital, all managed by volunteer staff. Competition categories include Best Indoor Garden, Best Fruit and Vegetable, Best Hanging Basket and Best Window Basket.

A hand fork and other garden tools
a flower in a red pot
A woman takes care of some flowers
flowers sticking through a fence
a herbaceous border by a path to an underground station

  • South Tottenham station, with Sasha Diamond, whose garden backs onto the station’s green grounds tending to the flowers. A pelargonium and petunia peek through the fence

The District Railway Company started the competition back in 1910. Staff were given money to buy seeds and encouraged to grow plants. The planting was more formal (early winners included St James’s Park, Ealing Common and Ealing Broadway), but by 1925 there were 30 small gardens scattered along the railway, according to Train Omnibus Tram magazine.

South Tottenham station

The article reads: “Railway stations, with their busyness, are not ideal places to grow flowers. In many cases the trains rush back and forth within a few meters of the carefully planned beds. It is therefore gratifying to reflect that, apart from the pride of achievement which only gardeners can know, there are thousands of passengers who, in their daily journeys to and fro, must see and admire the ‘glory of these gardens.’

Only 45% of London Underground is actually underground. At Morden metro station, staff grow a variety of fruit and vegetables including cherries, potatoes, peppers and plums on a disused platform. Staff can go there to relax and have some quiet time while on duty.

Blackhorse Road Station
Blackhorse Road tube station.
Arnos Grove station.
Arnos Grove station.
West Kensington station,
West Kensington station.
Abbey Wood station.
Abbey Wood station.
Norwood junction station.
Norwood junction station.
Arsenal Station.
Arsenal Station.

At Acton Town, a disused platform has been transformed into a jungle of potted plants for passengers to admire from across the tracks as they wait for a train. Outside Arsenal station and the entrance to the Elizabeth Line station at Seven Kings, Ilford, an eclectic collection of pots line the entrances.

Acton Town station.

James Elliot, who works for TfL at Goodge Street station, started planting in a disused space hidden from the main platform in 2019. He brought in compost using a suitcase, found planters and boxes given away on Freecycle and worked in the garden before and after his shift.

Today the garden has dozens of plants including geraniums, marigolds, wisteria, holly, nasturtium and a wildflower box of cornflowers and poppies. Vegetables grown at the station are shared among the staff, and this year’s harvest included tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot, lettuce, swiss chard – and even apples.

Goodge Street station
James Elliott and Addil Bakkali at Goodge Street station
Goodge Street station.
James Elliott and Addil Bakkali at Goodge Street station yard

  • Goodge Street station where James Elliott (left) and Addil Bakkali harvested a range of vegetables including beetroot, cucumbers, basil and lettuce, all grown in a once disused site

Elliot waited until the gardens had been graded in early August before harvesting the vegetables. “Autumn is my favorite thing; when you start growing vegetables you realize how difficult it is. You appreciate the time and expertise that has gone into delivering the food we eat,” he says.

The competition recognizes London Underground staff who have helped plant and maintain the gardens, making travel more enjoyable for others. “When I’m out at the stations, customers tell me how much these brighten their day. Sometimes they’ve even volunteered to help while they’re waiting for their train,” says Richard Baker, TfL’s Customer and Community Ambassador for Elizabeth the line.

Walthamstow Central Bus Station.

This year’s competition winners were:
Best Experienced Entry – South Tottenham;
Best fruit & vegetables – Morden;
Best Environmental Entry – Acton Town;
Best Hanging Baskets, Tubs and Window Boxes – Neasden Depot;
Best Community Entry – Ruislip;
Best Cultivated Garden (Station) – Kentish Town;
Best Cultivated Garden (Depot) – Barking Train Crew Accommodation;
Best Theme (Jubilation) – Seven Kings;
Best Newcomer – Walthamstow Bus Station;
Best Indoor Garden – Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly);
Art in Bloom – Susan Buck for her depiction of Acton Town station;
Best in show – Kentish Town.

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