Horticulture Week Custodian Award Winner - Martin Towsey, Woburn Abbey

The Bedford Estates gardens manager Martin Towsey has made an outstanding contribution to horticulture during his 33 years in the profession.

His career began with an apprenticeship and culminated in the restoration and recreation of Humphry Repton’s original garden plans for Woburn Abbey.

In the 13 years that he has been a key member of the senior management team at Woburn, Martin has put horticulture back into the heart of the estate, which in addition to the gardens at Woburn Abbey includes London’s Bedford Square, Southampton Row and Montagu Gardens as well as Woburn Safari Park, Woburn High Street and private houses owned by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.

Martin has delivered two five-year plans, enabling Woburn Abbey Gardens to evolve and become a better example of horticulture, while restoring and recreating original plans from Repton’s Red Book presented to the fifth duke in 1805. The gardens now command a ticket price and visitor numbers match those to the abbey. The site is now also an RHS partner garden scheme.

He has put in place an events schedule, including the Woburn Abbey Garden Show, to secure revenues while developing the skills of the gardening team. Other revenue drivers include profitable plant sales.

Woburn Abbey Garden School delivers a range of study days and "come and grow" sessions where external experts and the garden team pass on skills and techniques to visitors.

Martin is also known for his enthusiastic and knowledgeable tours and talks. He is the only senior manager within Woburn Enterprises to play an active role in delivering bespoke, specialist and VIP garden tours as well as visiting all manner of groups and societies. He recently secured funding to renovate a property on the estate that is now student accommodation, so the gardening team can accommodate more work experience placements and interns to help preserve the future of horticulture in the younger generation.

Martin has also engaged with the community and local schools to deliver horticulture to five- to seven-year-olds. Children assisted by Martin and his team created a show garden at last year’s garden show.

He is a custodian of the estate’s values — heritage excellence, community, innovation and integrity — and has always stood by these while delivering horticulture in a stimulating, relevant and interesting way. 


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