Deep beneath Nine Elms, a garden is blooming. And hardly anyone will ever see it.
"How was your day?"
"Meh, nothing special. I was just hanging around in Battersea, when I got lowered by crane into a supersewer to inspect a magical garden. You know, the usual. How about you?"
That was the conversation at the Londonist dinner table last night after a very peculiar adventure underground.
As you probably know, engineers have been busy constructing a vast relief sewer under the Thames. When it opens (now planned for 2025), it'll stop 95% of the waste water discharges into the river. The project is overseen by Tideway, a separate company to Thames Water who — I'm assured — will not be affected by the water company's current financial difficulties.
The project is now 80% complete, with most of the big civil engineering ticked off. To celebrate — in an admittedly very peculiar way — Tideway have unveiled what they're calling their Loo Garden. It's an horticultural installation deep down in the tunnels at Nine Elms, using plastic plants and recorded bird song.
The only way to get to this most secret of gardens is to climb into a cage and get yourself lowered by crane down a 50 metre shaft — the same one that was used to deliver the tunnel boring machines down to dig level.
The Loo Garden itself is quite a sight. It's made from some very realistic-looking fake foliage (by the same company who furnish Bridgerton and The Crown), as well as flowers crafted from Thames litter. The whole lot is professionally illuminated, soundtracked and enlivened with steam. Tideway have gone to quite an effort to make something lovely that few people will ever see first hand. The garden will be dismantled within days, to prepare the site for testing.
The really impressive thing down here, though, is not the faux-botanical eye-candy but the engineering itself. I kept turning away from the garden to gawp at the tunnel and shaft, which are built at incredible scale. Hard to imagine that this space will soon be full to capacity with London's foul water.