Imagine the drivers’ depot at Arnos Grove tube station – grey, boring, and soulless? Not a bit of it. We talk to tube driver Stelio Stylianou about his stunning creation: the ‘Arnos Grow ‘n Picc Gardens’.
The secret garden
It’s difficult to associate London Underground with anything but commuting and aggravation, especially for someone who has to use it every day. But Arnos Grove, an unassuming stop on the Piccadilly line, holds a beautiful secret behind its walls. It's a secret garden, brimming with cherry, plum, apple and nut trees, bamboo sculptures, a 100 foot-long water feature, tomato plants, Japanese shrubs, and a recently-opened memorial garden.
It’s all the hard work of the Piccadilly line’s tube drivers, who toil the soils during their lunch breaks and holiday days to maintain the stunning gardens first imagined by tube train driver Stelio Stylianou (pictured below) three years ago.
“Arnos Grow ‘n Picc was born out of mine and a colleague’s passion for gardening," he said. "It started small – early in 2010 I put something up on the notice board at Ash House [the depot for Arnos Grove], listing which colleague had which particular gardening skill. The idea was that you could pinpoint the person best suited to giving you advice about your garden at home.”
Breaking the macho mould
Stelio continues: “Although London Underground tube drivers have this silly unfounded macho reputation, it was clear from the start that loads of people were interested. And I thought that if everyone at the depot started gardening together, then it would help improve the community spirit of the place, and give everyone something fresh to talk about.”
Spurred on by the interest his project had created, Stelio decided to set about the untendered grounds surrounding the depot. In the space of three years, he and his fellow colleagues have transformed the area, building 17 huge gardening plots, numerous fruit bushes and trees, an array of greenhouses and polytunnels, huge rockeries, and a brand new memorial garden to ex-tube drivers, which was officially opened last month.
“We were taken the mickey out of something rotten when we first started, but now I’d say up to 400 London Underground staff are involved in Arnos Grow ‘n Picc – that’s drivers, managers, cleaners, anyone who wants a go. The talent among London Underground employees is immense – I could go into the staff room and pick ten people at random, and they’d be able to build you a house from scratch. It’s about realising our potential, and getting together. As is shown by our club motto, which has stuck: ‘It’s not about gardening; it’s about people.’”
Pick your five-a-day
Arnos Grow ‘n Picc, the biggest voluntary-run project on the Underground network, has picked up nearly 20 awards since it started, including the London Underground in Bloom accolade. As well as the main gardens, there’s also the now-oversubscribed ‘adopt-a-plot’ scheme for drivers who only want to tend to an individual plot. There's also a relationship with the local schools, who come to the depot to learn about gardening, and the ‘five-a-day scheme’ which encourages people to pick whatever fruits, nuts or vegetables they see in the garden.
“We just want to see our colleagues eating their five a day!” said Stelio. “There’s everything from onions to tomatoes, cabbages, lettuces, cauliflowers, sprouts, pumpkins, cherries, apples, plums and figs to pick, and some of the guys have plans to plant a heritage orchard in one of our empty plots of land, too.”
Stelio, who has to raise money to fund the gardens, said that the gardens have transformed the atmosphere at work: “Now everyone from managers to drivers clubs together, all for one purpose. It’s hard to unite all tiers of any company, but I think we’ve done that, and also given everyone a nice place to sit when they’re on a break. We had general managers coming down to the opening of the memorial gardens last week, which was great to see.”
Stelio has decided to stand down from Arnos Grow ‘n Picc after being at the forefront for so long: “The project is in need of a fresh pair of eyes now. It’s been an absolute joy and a pleasure to watch it grow from my imagination, but I’ve made my mark now and it’s time for someone else to have a go.”
Because it is within the confines of the depot, Arnos Grow ‘n Picc is not accessible to the public, but tours can be arranged. For more information visit arnosgrownpicc.com.
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