The Friends of Leamington Station were formed in 2004 to make the station a good place to start and finish a railway journey for the 2 million or so travellers who use it every year. The restoration of the original gardens was and remains an important part of this aim.
There are, in fact, three gardens. The station is built on an embankment and there is a winding ramp from street up to platform level, with two steeply sloping gardens (terraces) on each side. These are visible from the roads.
At platform level there is a long flat garden, only visible to travellers. Originally maintained by British Rail, for several years they had been neglected, particularly the terraces, which were covered with brambles, thistles, ground elder and other invasive weeds taking months of work and careful chemical weed-killing to clear. The 15 – 20 gardeners are all volunteers and new helpers are always very welcome.
Most of the volunteers are (or soon become) members of the Leamington Society, though this is not compulsory! Groups such as GALS (Gardeners around Leamington Spa) helped at the start.
The platform garden is 65 yards long and lawned, with flower beds. A yew hedge was planted early on and ten years later it is trained and trimmed to form a topiary steam train, embellished with a pampas grass plume of smoke.
At the far end of the platform gardens the lampman’s hut (the gardeners’ mess-room) and the coal compound have been rebuilt from dereliction in 2008 by and for the Friends, to supply storage for tools and space for water-butts to recycle the rainwater which falls on the hut roof. As the gardens are built on a man-made slope with stones and clinker, the topsoil is thin and in dry weather the lawns wither. Lawn trimmings and cuttings are composted behind the coal compound to enrich the soil. One advantage of the site is that the south face acts as a huge storage heater and plants survive cold winters much better than might be expected. One terrace is planted with rugosa roses and deutzia, the other with shrubs and herbaceous plants. The platform garden has a huge lavender bed and a variety of modern roses, survivors of British Rail days, with shrubs and flowering trees planted by the Friends since 2004.
By 2007 the garden won a national award for being the Best Station garden, and has also won local awards every year since 2006. Judging for these awards invariably takes place in summer, but there is enough permanent planning for the station gardens to look good all year round. Leamington Spa station garden is the biggest surviving working station in the country: most are now car parks. In 2009 Country Life judged it to be “the best country garden in all Britain” to the surprise and delight of the Friends. Tourists love to photograph themselves in the garden by the running in board to identify their location.