Tthe first official garden appeared in a London Underground station more than a century ago. There is now an annual Underground In Bloom competition run by Transport for London (TfL) to make many stations green.
There are makeshift station gardens around the capital, grown in everything from used mayonnaise pots to old food delivery boxes, all run by volunteers. Competition categories include Best Indoor Garden, Best Fruit and Vegetable, Best Hanging Baskets and Best Window Baskets.
The district railway started the competition back in 1910. Employees were given money to buy seeds and encouraged to grow plants. The fit 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.
The article states: “Stations, with their hustle and bustle, are not ideal places for growing flowers. In many cases, trains hurtle to and fro within feet of carefully planned beds. So it’s nice to know that besides the pride of accomplishments that only gardeners can know, there are thousands of commuters who must see and admire the ‘glory of these gardens’ on their daily journeys to and fro.’
Only 45% of London Underground is actually underground. At Morden tube station, staff grow a variety of fruit and vegetables, including cherries, potatoes, hot peppers and plums, on an abandoned platform. Staff can come there to relax and have some quiet time while on duty.
In Acton Town, an abandoned platform has been transformed into a jungle of potted plants, which passengers can admire from all sides while waiting for the train. Near Arsenal station and the Elizabeth line station entrance in Seven Kings, Ilford, an eclectic collection of pots frames the entrances.
James Elliott, who works for TfL at Hodge Street station, began planting the unused space tucked away from the main platform in 2019. He brought in compost using a suitcase, found planters and crates to be given away on Freecycle, and worked in the garden before and after his shift.
Today there are dozens of plants in the garden, including geranium, calendula, wisteria, holly, nasturtium and a box with cornflowers and poppies. Vegetables grown at the station are shared among the employees, and this year’s harvest includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, Swiss chard, and even apples.
Elliott waited until the gardens were graded in early August before harvesting the vegetables. “Harvest is my favorite thing; when you start growing vegetables, you realize how hard it is. You appreciate the time and expertise that goes into delivering the food we eat,” he says.
The competition celebrates London Underground staff who help plant and maintain gardens, making travel more enjoyable for others. “When I visit the stations, customers tell me how much they make their day. Sometimes they’ve even volunteered to help out while waiting for their train,” says Richard Baker, TfL customer and community representative for the Elizabeth line.
This year, the winners of the competition were:
Best seasoned record – South Tottenham;
Best Fruits and Vegetables – Morden;
The best entrance to the environment – Acton Town;
The 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 image of Acton Town Station;
Best in Show – Kentish Town.