Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best gardens or arboretum team

Winner - Woburn Gardens team, Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey’s 15-strong gardens team delivers horticultural excellence across six Woburn business areas as well as the private estates of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Led by estates gardens manager Martin Towsey, the team maintains a total of 496 acres including Woburn Abbey & Gardens where the Humphry Repton garden is being restored.

The rest of the estate maintained by the team includes Woburn Safari Park animal enclosures and amenity areas, Woburn Hotel, Woburn village frontage and village green, Woburn Golf Club amenity areas, London’s Bedford Square, Montagu Gardens, Ridgemont Gardens and Southampton Row plus The Evergreens private estate and the private houses of the duke and duchess.

Five-year plans, mission statements, visuals and communication ensure each member of the gardens team benefits from clear direction. The line of communication means a message can get from the key stakeholder, the duke and duchess, to the project team within 24 hours.

Three travelling gardeners who are learning their trade while studying on day-release at local colleges represent Woburn’s investment in the team’s future skills needs. Every three months they move to different parts of the estate and when a permanent position becomes available one of them tends to fit the position. They have seen the job and are already "Woburnised" with an understanding of the site. Seven of the current team are "fruits" of the Woburn travelling gardener scheme.

Goals are met by a team "with their noses all pointing in the same direction" and a "let’s get this done and to a Woburn standard" attitude. To meet commercial requirements, the team delivers events including study days and workshops. The annual Woburn Abbey Garden Show, now in its eighth year, is the largest event and delivered entirely by the gardens team.

The team has evolved and developed over the past 12 years alongside the development of the gardens. All current individual members are encouraged to present and contribute at quarterly update meetings. This transfers knowledge of training and experience to the wider team. 

The annual general meeting is attended by all the team and the duchess, who attends for the entire day. It is held at different properties so that the gardens team can benchmark its performance against other parks and gardens.

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