Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Gardens or Arboretum Team

Winner - Audley End, English Heritage

Over the past three years the Audley End House & Garden team has been working to raise standards of garden conservation and presentation, ensure the gardens are loved by visitors and better recognised as a significant landscape befitting its grade I listing. This was to be accomplished without significant increase in resources.

The Audley End Garden revitalisation project has accomplished these goals while bringing in much-needed income for English Heritage as a new charity. This has been delivered through the hard work and dedication of the gardens team, focusing on horticultural best practice as well as site presentation.

The first objective was to support the working of a single garden team led by the head gardener. The head gardener and senior gardens adviser identified challenges in each garden area and reset presentation standards. Work has started on a revised landscape and garden conservation management plan, with historic plantings being restored including the Gilpin Border and the iconic Cloud Hedge.

Community and visitor engagement were seen as the most important goal, to be achieved through volunteering, outreach and publicity. New garden events are appealing to increasing numbers of visitors - an Apple Festival weekend attracted a record 3,732 people in 2015 while Audley in Bloom appeals to early-summer visitors with nurseries, plant stalls and activities on offer.

Average monthly volunteer hours have grown more than 50 per cent to 383 per month, with volunteers now instrumental in guiding tours and giving information about Capability Brown's historic contribution to the site outside Saffron Waldon in Essex.

Gardening skills are being passed on to younger generations, with local junior and senior schools getting involved, while Audley End has brought in six trainees through the Historic & Botanic Garden Bursary Scheme over the past three years.

Production in the organic kitchen garden has increased, with cafe food often including garden produce. Overall the garden made £15,377 from produce and site-grown plants in 2015-16, up from £10,000 more than three years ago. A composting system on site ensures green waste is an asset, rather than the liability it had become, with 45 tonnes of green waste compost used last year.

Highly commended

Blenheim Palace

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