Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best gardens or arboretum (six-plus staff)

Winner - Trentham Gardens, St Modwen

Trentham’s revival commenced in 2004 with the major restoration of the site’s architectural bones, paths, sculpture and more. While the strong in-house team tasked with the revival was guided by a thorough knowledge of the garden and estate’s historical significance, it was decided that the approach should not be restricted to a clinical restoration.

Supported by the in-house team, Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf were commissioned to add a new veneer in the form of vast contemporary perennial plantings inserted into the restored historic gardens, which had long since been grassed over. Meanwhile, a focus on visitor engagement saw a trail of beautiful wire fairy sculptures created by a local artist to lead visitors around Capability Brown’s mile-long lake and the creation of show gardens to broaden horticultural interest.

A 42-seat electric catamaran provides cruises on the lake in part of a programme that includes regular walks, talks, bushcraft and family workshops, and a newly launched schools programme is being run with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

In 2013 Phytophthora ramorum was discovered on invasive Rhododendron ponticum, which had colonised much of the estate. Supported by the relevant bodies, it was decided to remove all of it, as well as larch, to improve conservation and eradicate the invasive. Much of the estate’s historic landscape had been overplanted with coniferous forestry and it was decided that this would also be removed at the same time.

By 2015 some 30,000 trees had been removed and many acres of Rhododendron ponticum cleared, revealing lost parkland and heathland as well as views and vistas long concealed. These spaces provide further opportunities to restore and support the historic landscape.

Most recently, Nigel Dunnett was invited to support the team with replanting around the lake. The brief was to add a new and contemporary layer of planting that respects Trentham’s historical significance while moving the plantings forward. The result was the creation of one of the largest sequences of woodland and meadow planting in the country.

While Trentham’s historic significance has been revealed and acknowledged, the garden today is fresh and contemporary, with many elements to draw visitors in and keep them returning throughout the year.

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