Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The enchanting alleyway of Battersea Flower Station

What is it with garden centres and railways in south London? Dulwich Pot and Plant Garden runs alongside North Dulwich station, the eclectic Nunhead Gardener thrills customers from inside the railway arches, and the fantastically-named Battersea Flower Station has rejunevated an alleyway running alongside the railway tracks between Imperial Wharf and Queenstown Road.

I am loathe to use such a tired cliche, but a wander through Battersea Flower Station really does feel like stumbling upon one of London's best-kept secrets. Wandering north on the eerily quiet Winders Road, you'll find yourself wondering if you're in the right place at all. The tarmac gives way to cobbles, and you'll pass under a railway arch so thin, the street's been pedestrianised at this point.

That railway arch is the clue that you are in the right place. Immediately through the arch, an unmissable pair of bright blue wooden gates appears on the right, wide open and thoroughly inviting, promising pots, plants, flowers... and magic (their words, not mine)

Through the gates, you'll be greeted with rainbow bunting, and a plethora of hanging lights, creating something of a festival atmosphere -- Wyevale this certainly isn't, and it's all the better for it. In this cobbled, well-to-do area of Battersea, it could come across as a futile attempt to appeal to the young, hipster demographic, yet it works - whether you're 5 or 95, you'll be enchanted by this narrow slice of the urban jungle.

The alleyway can only be 5ft wide at its broadest points, and yet there's so much to see. All manner of plants are laid out on tables on the left, a wall of greenery tickling its way along the towpath. It borders on overgrown, so that exploring the alleyway feels almost clandestine.

On the right hand side, a mishmash of breezeblock buildings and outhouses, each one painted a different, bright colour, line the base of the railway tracks. Each specialises in something different - seeds, gardening equipment, plant pots.

The occasional train rattles past on the tracks overhead, but for the most part the hustle and bustle of the place comes from the staff, who zip around attending to various plants, helping customers and handing out advice.

It's a tardis of a place, really. Just when you think the alleyway must be coming to an end, another string of psychedelic bunting appears among the fronds of greenery. Knick knacks appear left, right and centre, making it hard to know where to look when you're reluctant to miss anything.

The end of the alleyway is punctuated by a florist and gift shop, catering for the less green-fingered but equally keen punter. As with the rest of Battersea Power Station, it's beautifully presented, all rustic signs and colourful blooms.

Suddenly, you're back out on the hectic Battersea Park Road, emerging from this little haven as buses thunder past and pedestrians dash by. Most of them barely notice the floral goodness nestled between two buildings - it's as if you've stepped out of a whole other world that no-one else can see.

Battersea Flower Station, 16 Winders Road (other entrance next to 318 Battersea Park Road), SW11 3HE

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