Gardens on the Underground

Discover the hidden gardens across the Underground and the history of London Transport's garden competitions

By London Transport Museum

North Acton station garden (2012-02-16) by Stephen BarryLondon Transport Museum

Not so underground!

Despite its name, only 45% of the Underground is below ground. This means lots of stations are out in the open, with plenty of air and sunshine for plants to flourish. From flower beds, vegetable patches, hanging baskets and even ‘tiny parks’ in disused ticket offices, there are gardens across the whole Underground network.

Underground in Bloom: West Kensington (2019) by Transport for LondonLondon Transport Museum

Today’s annual Underground in Bloom competition, run by TfL, has its roots in a tradition that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and the Metropolitan District Railway.

Acton Town Underground station's entry to the 1923 District Railway station gardens competition (1923-07-27) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Early competition

Throughout its history, station staff have been encouraged to enhance their stations with plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables. The District was the first railway company to formally encourage its staff to take pride in its stations and gardens by providing funds staff could use to buy seeds and plants. The District also established a competition around 1910 to judge the best displays. 

Presentation plaque inscribed 'Garden Competition District Railway 1st prize 1916' (1916)London Transport Museum

This plaque was awarded to the winner of the District Railway station garden competition in 1916. It was dug up in 1948 by a signalman who worked at Northfields!

St James's Park Underground station entry to the 1914 District Railway station gardens competition (1914) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Early winners include Acton Town, Northfields, St James’ Park, Ealing Common and Ealing Broadway. This photo shows St James’s Park entry in 1914.

Judges inspecting a flower bed for the 1921 District Railway station gardens competition (July 1921) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Judging

Judges, including Directors and railway officials, would inspect the gardens in the summer and the competition winners were then announced in the TOT (Train, Omnibus, Tram) staff magazines. These judges are inspecting a flower bed at Ealing Broadway in 1921.

Judges inspecting a garden for the 1921 District Railway station gardens competition (July 1921) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Three judges inspecting a garden at Boston Manor for the 1922 District Railway station gardens competition (1922-07-21) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

A member of staff points out a feature of the terraced garden at Walham Green in the 1950 Station gardens competition (1950-08-09) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Judges inspecting neat flower beds at High Street Kensington for the 1948 Station gardens competition (9 - 11 August 1948) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

TOT staff magazine announcing the winners of the 1925 Station Garden Competition (August 1925)London Transport Museum

This TOT staff magazine announces the winners of the 1925 Station Garden Competition.

It mentions how there was a such a high standard in the competition, the Committee extended the number of second-class awards!

Northfields and Ealing Broadway both came out on top with a first class award and a prize of £3.

Machinist Andrews waving to the camera in his first prize-winning garden for the 1943 Station gardens competition (1943-08-03) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Gardeners

The gardens were planted and maintained by station staff, with funds for seeds provided by the railway company. This photo shows Machinist Andrews waving to the camera whilst working in the garden at Ealing Common station in 1943. His garden won first prize the year this was taken! 

Mr Murray Griffith congratulating Collector Bishop on winning the 1929 District Railway garden competition (1929-07-23) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Collector Bishop is pictured here in 1929 being congratulated by My Murray Griffith for winning a first prize for the fifth prize in succession for his gardens at Ealing Broadway Underground station.

Ornamental flower beds at Minories Junction as part of the 1924 District Railway station gardens competition (1924-07-17) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

The gardens ranged from simple flower beds to highly decorative and ornamental gardens. This photo shows ornamental beds at Minories Junction, which won a second class award in the 1924 competition.

Underground in Bloom: Loughton Train Crew Accommodation (2019) by Transport for LondonLondon Transport Museum

Today

Today, more than 100 years since the first Gardens competition, green-fingered TfL staff continue to brighten up their stations in the annual Underground in Bloom competition. The 2019 competition received over 100 entries from Underground, Overground, DLR and coach stations. 

Underground in Bloom: Upminster Depot (2019) by Transport for LondonLondon Transport Museum

Upminster's colourful garden scooped the 2019 prize.

Tube-inspired planters at Hammersmith station (2019) by Transport for LondonLondon Transport Museum

Hammersmith won the prize for best indoor garden with planters painted to look like Tube carriages.

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