‘Tenacious’ musician creates a garden out of nothing at Ally Pally Station

PUBLISHED: 12:45 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:45 30 July 2020

Howard Williams of The Friends of Ally Pally station watering The Bedford Rose Garden

Howard Williams of The Friends of Ally Pally station watering The Bedford Rose Garden

© Nigel Sutton

Michael Solomon Williams and the ‘Friends of Ally Pally Station’ have carved out steps and sown planters on a steep plot behind the platforms during lockdown

Howard Williams of The Friends of Ally Pally station watering The Bedford Rose GardenHoward Williams of The Friends of Ally Pally station watering The Bedford Rose Garden

The land falls sharply from Bedford Road down to the platforms and tracks of Alexandra Palace Station.

The slope is grown in with ash trees, brambles and grass, in an unnoticeable sort of way. But the section nearest the path to the footbridge is now attracting plenty of attention, thanks to Michael Solomon Williams and his tenacity in turning it into a garden.

There is no soil to speak of, no water and a challengingly sharp gradient.

But the feature that suggested a garden to Michael is that it is fenced off, with a gate. Already being a member of the Friends of Ally Pally Station, who look after the planters on Platform 1, it was easy for him to be given a key and allowed to start. He, friends and family set about clearing, making steps and a serpentine path, setting up planters, carrying in 5 litre water bottles and encouraging donations of seeds and plants. There are now planters all down one side, with beds of herbs and annuals in the body of the garden, marked by bricks and branches found onsite.

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At the bottom, supported by the fence, is a contraption to hold soil and keep it damp, in which tomatoes, squash, marrows and sunflowers are flourishing. This arrangement is so successful in being able to support thirsty plants in a garden with no irrigation (beyond carried-in water and rain) that it deserves its more honorific title of Hugelkultur; a permaculture technique for raised beds.

It involves layers of different materials, starting with logs and branches at the bottom, then turf, cardboard, half rotted compost and a topping of soil and compost, all aimed at keeping in moisture.

Michael and some of the other “Friends of Ally Pally Station” began the garden in February, so it has been a creative lock-down project. With virtual work at home but without the usual out-and-about quality of a musician’s life, Michael looked forward every day to leaving the flat, hefting the water bottles and making the garden.

It is in a perfect position for passers-by to see, comment upon, bring plants and, in some cases, join in.

In the brief time I was there, several people stopped to express their pleasure. One said, “Every day, there’s something new!” Another was happy to see the wild flowers for the bees, and Bibi Mole, a girl who, at a guess, might be among those to have missed their last term at primary school, said something I had to ask her to explain … it was that she could see, in an arrangement of bright flowers growing within a circle of bricks, the flames of a camp fire.

Our photo shows Howard Williams, Michael’s father, carrying out the duty placed upon him by his son as he departed on holiday. Like many people for whom gardening has been a lifeline this year, Michael could not go away without making secure arrangements for sustaining the plants that have been sustaining him.

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