My Secret Garden - Against The Odds

Acton Town tube gets prize nomination for its greenery

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After the new lift was installed a couple of years ago at Acton Town tube, Edward James Johnston, who worked at the station, looked at the heap of rubble next to it and thought it looked “horrible”.

Edward is permanently based at Acton Town station now, but at the time he was working on a roster which took him “all over the place”. One of the stations he worked at, Sudbury Town, has a lovely garden which won 3rd prize in the annual Underground in Bloom competition a couple of years ago.

He kept eyeing the unsightly heap of rubble but was initially unsure. “There are so many rules and regulations to contend with.” But, spurred on by his colleagues at Sudbury Town and in Acton, he was eventually inspired to ask Steve Campbell, then the Station Manager at Acton Town (now General Station Manager), whether he would grant permission for a garden next to the new lift. The answer was "yes".

The site gets very little natural light. “In the summer it gets two hours of sun in the mornings but in the winter there is none at all. There is no water, so when I water the plot I have to carry it all down by hand. I also have to contend with outdoor temperatures in what is a sort of indoor site”.

“Last Autumn,” he tells me, “I decided to start my experiment. Sudbury Town gave me some plants which they were going to lose to frost. I kept them in pots. A few fuschias I got from them have survived. I got some geraniums and some pellargoniums. I tried to grow things from seed but that wasn’t successful. Nasturtiums which are pretty easy wouldn’t grow here.”

Now the garden has been nominated by Magdalen Wade for the Daily Telegraph Gardening Against the Odds awards. She called it a “charming burst of colour in a very unlikely spot. This really is gardening against the odds.”

Edward is obviously passionate about growing things in adverse conditions. He calls a colleague to take over from him in the Information booth on Platforms 1 & 2 where there is a constant stream of questions which he answers with, I can’t help noticing, an enviable, placid calm. This means he can show me the garden for himself.

It is worth delaying your journey to make a detour in order to see this rather miraculous patch of green. “I brought some unwanted roundels from my own garden and painted them the colours of the tube lines to add some colour,” Edward tells me. Another nice touch in keeping with the garden’s situation is a railway sleeper which props up one of the beds. The garden had to be re-shaped to discourage a fox which would visit every night and effectively demolish the garden by digging everything up.

“Everything really has to be grown in pots or in grow-bags. Cyclamen seem to like it here and I have a few palms which are doing well. I have planted some daffodil bulbs and it will be interesting to see if they come up in the Spring.”

There is obviously an enthusiastic growing community amongst London Underground employees. “Northfields and Sudbury Town have asked me to save them some fuschias. I am hoping to save plants from other stations and keep them going over the winter.” Edward is also planning to put a planted Christmas tree in the garden which will add a seasonal note. “I am also thinking about growing some rhubarb and may even start making my own pies.”

The garden is a great example of how plants brighten up the most unlikely places. It is inspiring to see how things can grow even in the most adverse conditions. As the tube trains clatter along the tracks, inhaling and exhaling hurried passengers, Edward looks proudly at his cheerful collection of blooms and comments: “This is a haven in a sea of madness.”


(as published in



28 September 2010


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