The opened the first formal garden in a London Underground station more than a century ago. Now, there’s an annual Underground In Bloom competition run by Transport for London (TfL) for many stations going green.

With plants grown in everything from used mayonnaise containers to old lunch boxes, temporary station gardens, all run by volunteer staff, are springing up around the capital. Competition categories include best indoor garden, best fruit and vegetables, best hanging baskets and best window baskets.

Hand hoe and other garden tools
flower in a red pot
A woman tends to flowers
flowers go through the fence
grassy border with the road to the metro station

  • South Tottenham station with Sasha Diamond, her garden backs onto the station’s green space, tending to the flowers. Pelargonium and petunia peek through the fence

The district railway company started the competition in 1910. Workers were paid to buy seeds and encouraged to grow plants. According to Train Omnibus Tram magazine, the planting was more formal (early winners included St James’ Park, Ealing Common and Ealing Broadway), but by 1925 there were 30 small gardens scattered along the railway.

South Tottenham station

The article states: “Railway stations, with their hustle and bustle, are not ideal places to grow roses. In many cases, trains run back and forth within a few feet of carefully planned beds. Therefore, apart from the pride of achievement that only gardeners can know, it is gratifying to think that there are thousands of passengers who must see and admire the magnificence of these gardens on their daily journeys”.

Only 45% of the London Underground is actually underground. At Morden tube station, workers grow a variety of fruit and vegetables, including cherries, potatoes, chillies and plums, on a disused platform. Staff can go there for rest and 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.

A disused platform in Acton Town has been transformed into a jungle of potted plants, and passengers can admire it from across the tracks as they wait for their trains. Outside Arsenal station and the entrance to Elizabeth line station at Seven Kings, Ilford, an eclectic collection of pottery frames the entrances.

Acton Town station.

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

Today, the garden has dozens of plants, including geraniums, marigolds, wisteria, holly, nasturtiums and a wildflower box with corn and poppies. Vegetables grown at the station are shared among the staff, and this year’s crop includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, 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 in the garden of Goodge Street station

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

Elliot waited until the gardens were judged in early August before picking the vegetables. “Harvest is my favorite thing; When you start growing vegetables, you realize how difficult it is. You appreciate the time and expertise that goes into delivering the food we eat,” he says.

The competition recognizes London Underground staff who help plant and maintain gardens, making travel more enjoyable for others. “When I’m at the stations, customers tell me how much it brightens their day. Sometimes they even volunteer to help while waiting for their train,” says Richard Baker, TfL customer and community ambassador for the Elizabeth line.

Walthamstow Central Bus Station.

Winners of this year’s competition:
Best seasoned entry – South Tottenham;
Best Fruits and Vegetables – Morden;
Best Environmental Entry – Acton Town;
The best hanging baskets, bins 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 and Piccadilly);
Art in Bloom – Susan Buck for her depiction of Acton Town station;
Best Show – Kentish Town.

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