Collecting for 2013 – Hampstead’s Hidden Garden

Green-fingered staff at Hampstead station have transformed a derelict piece of wasteland into an award-winning garden.

Hampstead is the deepest station on the Underground network, with platforms 192 ft deep, 310 steps and the longest spiral staircase on the network.

A long-neglected concrete area behind the station’s street-level ticket hall contained waste bins and was covered in rubble.

After deciding to improve the space, hours of backbreaking work carried out by station supervisor Neeta Patel and her colleagues have turned it into a colourful garden full of fruit and vegetables.

Initial work involved building a series of raised beds and filling them with around 80 bags full of soil, with the pathways between them covered in bark.

A wide variety of fruit and vegetables was planted in the first year, among them strawberries, herbs, courgettes, gooseberries and peas, with the bins hidden behind barriers.

After entering Underground in Bloom – the Tube’s own annual gardening competition – for the first time in 2010, the garden scooped the Dennis Sanger Chief Operating Officer ‘Special’ award for the team’s efforts.

The garden was then enhanced with a variety of flowers, many taken from cuttings in Neeta’s own garden, and colourful hanging baskets. This led to Hampstead winning the fruit and vegetable category for growing a variety of edible treats in a challenging environment in the 2011 competition.

“It was a double surprise to win two top prizes in our first two years of entering the competition,” said Neeta. The prize money went towards buying more plants and garden equipment, including a small greenhouse and a garden seat.

The garden now has an olive tree and a peanut bush, with seeds for some of the more exotic herbs and vegetables brought back from Neeta’s family home in India.

There is even a wormery bin, providing rich environmentally-friendly liquid fertilizer to help plants grow.

All of the work is done by station staff in their own time  They include station assistant Mary Fisher, station supervisors Stephen Ryan, Bernard Bradley and Naresh Patel, and cleaner Abbey Bola.

“It’s a great place for us to relax during our break or after a stressful shift,” said Mary Fisher. “Looking after the garden has given us something different and fun to focus on all-year-round.”

“Creating and caring for the garden has really boosted staff morale,” said Neeta. “It’s a true working garden, with all of the harvested crops used by staff in the station’s kitchens. It’s very satisfying to have created something out of nothing and just a pity that our customers can’t see it.”

Text and photos by Stephen Barry, Museum Friend

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