Kentish Town tube station regulars know the ticket hall is filled with plants but may be surprised to discover a whole garden can be found hidden away in the station yard.

Over the past decade, a hidden courtyard next to the ticket hall has been transformed into a verdant space filled with flowers, vegetables, decorations, and quite a bit of wildlife that’s found its way here.

There’s been a small yard next to the tube station since it was built, originally with a shop facing the main road and a small commercial building in the yard. Both were removed maybe in 1980/81, as that’s when a new corridor and footbridge linking the Tube and Thameslink stations were built, which blocked the yard’s main entrance. The yard became a bin store and now that it was hidden behind high walls and a locked door, it was rarely seen again.

One day though, London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer, Phil Hufton was at the station having a look at the pot plants inside the ticket hall that were being looked after by Drew, a customer service assistant who works in the station.

Phil set Drew a gardening challenge — make something of the empty yard.

Fortunately, the yard was about to get some work done next to it, as a new footpath for the Thameslink station was being built in 2012, and Drew was able to persuade the builders to do a bit of site clearance using their digger while they were building the new footpath. The yard cleared, Drew got to work, and over the years has filled the courtyard with a small forest of planting.

Black tomatoes, lemon mint, basil, sunflowers, huge dahlias, roses, and avocado trees fill the space, which is also dotted around with recently decorated old CDs, knitted decorations and sculptures.

A water butt in a corner is fed by rainwater, but the lack of rain this year has not been a problem. That’s because the deep tube tunnels are regularly pumping water out, and Drew tops up his water butt with “grey water” from the tube station sump — a very environmentally friendly option to keeping the garden overflowing with plants during a heatwave.

No worries about a hosepipe ban here.

People who use the corridor between the two stations know when Drew is in the garden as he leaves the door open and many a head pokes round and asks if they can pop in for a look. Curious visitors become fans, and fans started turning up with cuttings and plants for the garden. A private staff garden became a community garden.

The garden expanded recently though, as a building inside the yard housing two old air conditioning units that had been decommissioned ages ago was finally demolished, and Drew once again persuaded the builders to do a bit of site clearance, and the yard pretty much doubled in size earlier this year. You’d never realise it only happened a few months ago, as the planting looks like it’s been here for years, as it’s really taken the hot, but humid space.

That’s in part thanks to the 12th Hampstead Cubs, who got very involved in bringing life to the new area, and they got to paint their names on the wall to celebrate their contribution. A pumpkin they planted is starting to take over a whole corner that used to be too dark for anything to survive for long. Maybe Kentish Town tube station will have homegrown Halloween decorations in October.

Apart from the plants and scouts, there’s wildlife. A family of dormice have been spotted in one corner, and a local fox regularly turns up in the evenings, probably looking for the dormice. There are even a couple of resident frogs who somehow colonised a small water feature.

All this is happening in a courtyard surrounded on three sides by high walls. It can be seen from the Thameslink footpath, but that’s only open when the main entrance is closed, so this pocket park is still a bit of a secret space. Keeping all this going during the heatwave had Drew spending at least a couple of hours every day in the garden. He pops in before or after a shift, the door open and customers popping in for a chat as the regulars know that an open door means Drew’s around somewhere.

This hidden valley of greenery is a haven for wildlife in this urban patch of London. When you’re next using Kentish Town station, have a look to see if the door is open and pop your head in to see if Drew is around for a look.

Like many of the gardens in TfL stations, this one is taking part in TfL’s annual staff gardening competition, and down the road, a very different pocket park exists.

No less challenging a site, the shaded interior of Highbury and Islington station has a calming corner by the control room, with a cluster of potplants tended by Julia who works in the station 3 days a week.

Being deep inside the ticket hall area, it’s been a difficult site to find plants that are happy with more shade than they might be used to, and Julia said that a lot of experimenting took place before she found the right plants, aided again by occasional contributions from passengers who enjoy walking past the potted display on their commutes.

Julia built up a wall behind to give the garden a bit of height, using bamboo fencing, and do pay close attention to the white fencing in front, as it’s not decorated with the season you might be expecting.

Julia’s been building up the display, a few donated pots, lots of time, stones to reflect the light and a growing collection. The station printer has produced a tube line inspired poster. It all sits right in front of the window for the station control room, and the staff on the other side get to enjoy watching people stop for a moment to look at the plants, to relax on a hurried day, and some even stop to take photos.

Two very different gardens both creating their own patches of nature within London’s transport network, created by staff and supported by customers.

Keep an eye out, there are a lot more of them dotted around London.

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4 comments
  1. Rob Healy says:

    I work at Kentish Town station and am one of Drew’s managers. He spends a lot of his own time and money in maintaining the garden. It is a little piece of tranquility that everyone enjoys. We really appreciate the dedication and commitment he puts in.

  2. Jo Siedlecka says:

    I live in Kentish Town and love this little oasis in the station. There are quite a few guerrilla gardeners round here here planting patches of flowers and trees and in skips in Leighton Road, Torriano Avenue and other places.

  3. Monique says:

    Marvellous to know there is nature growing behind stations and corners of the underground, and tended by living hands. Great to know. Will certainly pop my head round when there next time.

  4. Lizebeth says:

    Wow! I use the Station fairly regularly, and always admired the plants within, but never knew about the adjacent amazing garden! Thank you for letting us know — I will definitely go and have a look next time I am in the area.

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