Nothing cheers the soul more on a long commute than the sight of flowers from the train. So it's great to hear that TfL employees all over the capital have been busy sprucing up their platforms with a splash of colour. But which stations have the finest displays, and which are merely also rans? I've been out searching the network to find The Top Five Tube Flowerbeds. Because beauty should be rewarded.
Pinner: This is a splendid display. A flowerbed of grand proportions behind the benches at the end of the southbound platform. Imagine waiting for your City train here as bold flowers burst out from the greenery behind. Reds and pinks and yellows dance above a carpet of leaves - even the whites seem somehow brighter here. But it's the shrubbery that truly draws the eye, bursting out in floral clouds at eye and shoulder level. So high is this botanic eruption that the ugly metal railings beyond almost disappear. You could easily lose a colony of foxes, or more likely rats, beneath the spread of broad leaf cover. It's clear that someone's keeping this border in tiptop shape, no doubt with regular watering and the occasional prune. They love their station at Pinner, and they tend it with pride.
North Acton: Two supervisors at North Acton station have created an award-winning garden that provides all-year-round colour to the delight of passengers. The man-made flower beds are the work of supervisors Terry Murrell and Bharat Vagani, built with the help from other station staff including contract cleaner Abraham Soubair. It all began in a small way back in 2005 when Bharat, a veteran of 22 years with London Underground, put up some hanging baskets on the platforms to brighten up the dingy surroundings. Months of hard work followed. Working by hand, they brought in around 15 tons of soil to create the extensive raised beds, which are edged with railway sleepers. All of the work was done in their spare time, including days off and during annual leave. It was a true labour of love as the station has no vehicle access and all the soil had to be brought down a long slope from the nearby road.
Northwood Hills: They've been busy at the quiet end of the Metropolitan, brightening up the scene. The two long raised beds, facing each other across the tracks, are currently a riot of summer colour. Each has been planted with pretty and practical bedding plants, carefully selected for overall effect. Those are poppies, those are pansies, and those are lupins unless I'm very much mistaken. But that's not all. Here at Northwood Hills they've made an effort all along the southbound platform, with manicured tubs in the shade of the canopy and small blue planters hanging from the edge of the wall. The overall effect would score more marks if some passenger hadn't chucked an economy energy drink can into the foliage, but I'm sure a member of station staff will be along shortly to collect it.
Chesham: When platform two went out of commission, the stationmaster at Chesham put it to good use. The tracks were torn out, right up to the buffers, and a low level garden went in. This is a prize-winning garden, circa 1993, with key elements still in place 20 years later. There may have been a few more flowers back then, but these days the area has been colonised by a wide range of conifers. These boast variety in shade and hue, and occasionally in height. You could even step down and explore, there's no sign or barrier to keep passengers at bay. A couple of narrow walkways allow staff to wander through with a watering can, should lack of rainfall make that necessary. The open area further along is sometimes used for the storage of timber, but elegantly stacked, solely on a temporary basis. A little extra colour wouldn't go amiss, and the grass looks like it'll never be ready for mowing, but Chesham's platform garden is a unique ecological hideaway.
Preston Road: This might not be everyone's choice for top tube flowerbed, but won't you look at that waterfall of colour? Perhaps it's the time of year, but these bushes are literally bubbling with blossom. They've planted the same at Pinner, but only here on the island platform are they given the chance to burst forth as nature intended. Whites and pinky-browns, rising higher than the lampposts, in truly dominant position. Meanwhile a splash of yellow complements the scene at lower level, without which this would be an unbalanced sprawl. The composition might look almost thrown together, but Preston Road well deserves its place in the list of Top Five Tube Flowerbeds. Stand here awhile and admire.
So go on, how far down that did you read? How far through the post did you get before you realised this wasn't an entirely kosher list? Was it Preston Road that gave the game away? No way do a couple of shrubs merit a place in a Top 5 list of prettiest flowerbeds. Indeed if you look in the background of that shot you'll see two more raised beds that are completely empty, not a leaf in sight, merely a mass of untended soil. Preston Road's not even Top 20, let alone Top 10. Or was it Chesham that somehow sounded wrong? I've only walked past Chesham's garden once in the last two years, and that briskly. I can't really remember what it's like at all, so I've had to construct my description solely by looking at photoson Flickr. Unconvincing stuff. Or was it Northwood Hills that blew the whistle? I mean, it's pretty enough, and a lot of effort's gone in, but this list is suspiciously skewed by a significant and unjustified Metropolitan line bias. Or was it North Acton that fell short of credibility. I've not visited this particular station at all, so my report on its gardens is entirely second hand. In fact I've cut and pasted all the words from the London Transport Museum blog, then tried to pass it off as my own, which is utterly lazy journalism. Or was it Pinner that missed the target? I'm no gardening expert so I have scant grasp of what any of these particular blooms are called, resorting instead to mentioning what colour they all are and little more. Vacuous waffle.
In fact it should have been the title - The Top 5 Tube Flowerbeds - that rang alarm bells. Whenever you see any blogpost entitled "The Top 5" anything you should be suspicious. The top five? Says who? On what authority? There is absolutely no justification for me picking these particular five stations, other than personal whim. These aren't "the top five", they're merely "a top five", and that distinction is important. All I did was visit a tiny stretch of the Metropolitan line and then shoehorn my blinkered view into a supposedly authoritative post, which is in fact dangerously uninformed. But it's a good title, isn't it, The Top Five Tube Flowerbeds? I mean who wouldn't be at least slightly intrigued by that? Indeed I'm hoping it's linkbait and you'll all like the concept and tweet it. No matter that what I've written underneath is mostly twaddle, or else borrowed from others, it's the title that sells.
So all I'm really saying is, think twice before you believe any post anywhere online which claims to be The Top [Insert Number Here] of anything. Unless it's been based on a survey or official judgements then it's probably hogwash. Indeed it's likely to be marketing masquerading as fact, with the client slipped into the list at number three or four to boost its search engine performance. London’s top five sushi restaurants? Like hell they are. London's best rooftop bars for sunny evening drinking? Unfounded speculation. The Top 5 shops in Newham? Only in your promotionally deluded mind.
I haven't a clue what The Top 5 Tube Flowerbeds are, I haven't done the legwork or invested time in research. I can give you My Top 5 Tube Flowerbeds, even A Top 5 Tube Flowerbeds, but absolutely not the definitive list. Watch out for weasel words, and please treat all unfounded The Top 5s and The Top 10s with the contempt they deserve.