Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Gardens or Arboretum Initiative

Winner - Burkes Wood and Lakeside Meadows, Trentham Gardens, St Modwen

Image: Trentham Gardens
Image: Trentham Gardens

Historical Context:

Trentham was the ancestral home of the Sutherland’s who, for over 300 years, were both the custodians and enthusiastic improvers of its historic landscape. In 1996, the current owners, St. Modwen purchased the estate which had fallen into considerable disrepair, and embarked on a major regeneration project.

The most recent phase of garden restoration works, based around the mile-long lake and adjacent parkland and River Trent, is led by Professor Nigel Dunnett. His approach to planting design focuses upon creating bold immersive schemes with dramatic use of colour, texture and form, whilst employing ecological approaches.

Challenges have included clearance of six hectares of invasive Rhododendron ponticum from Burkes Wood in 2013, creating features on lakeside embankments with little topsoil, working on a site with 364 days per annum visitor access, and removal of forestry plantations of commercial conifers and self-set sycamore, alder, birch and larch on the lake margin to recreate the views across the landscape.

The scheme aims to create a coherent and linked garden experience based around the central lake featuring large-scale and dramatic visual displays, with large numbers of a restricted range of species and cultivars.

Key features:

  • Planting of a series of connective annual and perennial meadows along the lake margins with probably the largest series of contemporary meadows in the UK. Nigel’s work to date includes 21,000 m2 of annual plantings. A range of bespoke mixes have been used to create swathes of colour.  His pioneering woodland meadow plantings are being added in phases along the western lakeside walks. Started in 2016, today it contains 70,000 perennials planted in curved ribbons of colour themed mixes inspired by North American Woodlands. Designed to climax in spring whilst giving all year-round interest. In addition to the woodland meadows we have also installed more than 25,000 perennials in bespoke mixes, adjacent to our two main entrances.

  • New tree planting in the form of large scale groves of the same or similar species, with a significant focus upon autumn tints and tones. More than 700 magnolia trees have planted since 2015 in "naturalistic stands" of large single species groups. Planted in bold groups of 10-50 of just one variety and close together to create natural glades of a scale seldom seen, and unique in terms of modern plantings. 

The zig zag walk connects the lakeside path with the Magnolia Walk. The planting here at Trentham is the first of its kind in the UK, an understory of 400 witch-hazels, in naturalistic single cultivar groves with 70 Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill’ and 100 Winter Sweet.


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The Horticulture Week Custodian Awards are open to all professionals responsible for the management and development of parks, gardens and other green spaces. Find out more about how and why you should enter the 2019 Custodian Awards.

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