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Court in Conversation – Mary Pipe at Hampton Court Rail Station

Earlier this summer, as the train station and staff readied themselves for the incoming wave of visitors to the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival we found a quiet moment to find out more from Mary about her very own show garden…

On any given day commuting in and out of London from Hampton Court station, you may have seen the three large flower beds bordering the car park – this is ‘Mary’s Garden’.

Mary Pipe is a familiar and friendly face for train travellers, as she is the Customer Ambassador and Mental Health First Aider at Hampton Court rail station. She has worked for South Western Railway since 2008, and in 2019 became the caretaker of the station garden at Hampton Court, a job that she loves, along with her daily routine in the ticket office.

What does your job involve on a daily basis?

“My main job is assisting people in the station and selling tickets. I like people, and find them so interesting, and enjoy making connections with them – even the angry customers! It’s really nice, you meet so many different people, all the tourists and regulars.”

How did you come to have your own garden here at the station?

“After Hampton Court Palace and the RHS, along with South West Trains (as it was then) stopped maintaining the area, I just couldn’t leave it. It was becoming overgrown, with weeds everywhere. I used to tend to Thames Ditton station too when I worked there. Quite a few plants are brought from my garden at home.”

Is there much crossover from your home to the garden here?

“Yes, I can’t get anymore in my garden at home! I bring on plants from plugs, and move them here. And I make my own compost at home. My favourites are the roses and the lavender. I like the clash of colours, the purples and cerises. I find little seedlings of plants in the cracks, like verbena, dig them up and put them in here.”

Your garden must have had an impact on people?

“Having the garden gives you common ground. Sometimes people just want to chat, and about things that they normally wouldn’t, difficult things. If I see someone who’s upset for example, I’ll ask if they want to talk, and so you can chat about the garden, and people open up.”

What does gardening do for you, in terms of wellbeing?

“It gives me a sense of nurturing, and I like the enjoyment it gives others. My work breaks are a little bit of weeding instead of sitting.”

Do you have plans for the future for ‘Mary’s Garden’?

“I want to get a compost area. In the corner of the carpark there are a pile of sleepers, and I’d love to put all the coffee grinds (from the station café) and stuff from the flower beds there to make my own compost. And I’m bringing on some tree seedlings that I took out of the flower beds, like horse chestnut and sycamores, that I’ll bring back here in big pots, so we’ll have trees here too.”

As we chat, we’re visited by bees and butterflies on their daily commute from flower to flower. It’s a joy to see the benefits that ‘Mary’s Garden’ offers to the local wildlife, as well as to the local commuter. With the support of other station staff, and the managing director of South Western Railway, we’re sure it will continue to thrive in her care.

Mary would welcome any spare seedlings and seeds, ‘perennials if possible’ and any help with watering in hot weather!


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