Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best gardens or arboretum (one-to-five staff)

Winner - Walmer Castle Gardens, English Heritage

Walmer Castle Gardens in Kent is maintained by five gardeners and up to 25 volunteers with some support from outside contractors. For the past three years, driving up visitor numbers through higher horticultural standards has been the number-one goal informing the management and upkeep of the gardens, part of the historic Walmer Castle managed by English Heritage.

The success of the gardens team in achieving that goal is clearly illustrated by the results three years on. Visitors are projected to reach 92,000 in 2017, up from 74,000 in 2014.

The gardening team well understands the link between the horticultural attractiveness of the property and the health of the overall core business, a factor that has underpinned all improvements:

-Restoration of key features such as the Broadwalk (an 85m double herbaceous border) and the Queen Mother’s Garden (designed by Penelope Hobhouse), which have helped to enhance the gardens’ reputation.

-The annual supply to the Walmer Castle catering facilities of £3,000 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables grown by the Kitchen Garden team, which combines with the in-house catering staff to create a seasonal menu.

-Spring bulb planting, including an historic tulip display, has generated publicity and increased the seasonality of the site, as well as fostering community involvement. An additional 15,000 bulbs were planted in autumn 2016 to enhance the garden displays, with local school and scout groups assisting in the mass autumn bulb planting.

-Significant environmental engagement both on site, through initiatives such as conservation of wild flower meadows that demonstrate local ecology, and off site, through engagement with neighbourhood stakeholders. The latter has included participation in the Deal Hop Farm localism project that will see co-operative cultivation and production of Kentish beer.

-An educational initiative by the gardens team that has seen the creation of an annual schools art competition hosted during the on-site "Bloomin’ Gardens" show.

-Utilisation of the gardens’ own resources to create a natural play area for younger children. This project has been carried forward as part of English Heritage’s "Kids Takeover" campaign.

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