West Dean head gardeners Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain have been presented with Horticulture Week’s Custodian Award for their lifetime’s work in revitalising the 19th century landscape.
This year marks 25 years since the husband and wife team began transforming the derelict 92-acre site into award-winning gardens, in the wake of the Great Storms of 1987.
In the years since 1991, the gardens have overseen tremendous changes which have brought the couple international respect for both the quality and variety of horticultural practice.
As they are part The Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust, it was equally important that Jim and Sarah created a design that could be maintained with limited resources, to ensure sustainability.
They were determined to work within the historic framework and build on its diverse characteristics, adding their own contemporary contributions, as with previous generations.
Kate Lowe, editor of Horticulture Week and chairman of the Custodian Awards judging panel, said: “Our judging panel was deeply impressed with the commitment, dedication and skill of Sarah Wain and Jim Buckland and all that they have achieved at West Dean Gardens. They have developed their team and the landscape raising the prominence of the gardens in the process to great heights.”
Jim, an honours graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has managed gardens in Australia and the UK. He is an Associate of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society, which he was awarded in 2013 for distinguished service to horticulture through the transformation of West Dean Gardens.
Jim said: “It is a great honour for our work to be recognised in this way, an honour shared by all who have been involved in the project; our excellent gardens staff, our craftsmen building team, our board of trustees and many, many more. A treat for everybody!”
In recognition of her contribution to West Dean, Australia-born Sarah was awarded The Professional Gardeners Guild’s Loyal and Outstanding Service Award, in recognition of the highest horticultural standards, and the Institute of Horticulture Award.
Jim and Sarah head up a team of nine permanent gardeners and 40 volunteers, working in groups of eight per day, including international volunteers and an Historic and Botanic Gardens Training Programme trainee.
Passing on their knowledge and skills is an important element of their work. The team’s work has included hard landscaping, metal fabrication and a comprehensive range of horticultural activities.
Inspired by the BBC’s 1987 television programme Victorian Kitchen Garden, Jim and Sarah began their work 25 years ago in the kitchen garden at West Dean.
Their first project was to restore it to a semblance of its earlier glory, including a two-year restoration of 13 Victorian glasshouses.
Designed by Foster and Pearson between 1895 and 1901, the glasshouses are the jewel in the crown of the walled garden and some of the few working glasshouses in the UK.
The 35-acre ornamental grounds act as a foil to the many heritage features.
Further significant projects undertaken over the past 25 years include the rebuilding of a 300ft Edwardian pergola designed by Harold Peto, which was in pieces on the floor after storm damage in 1987.
The award-winning Sunken Garden has been redesigned, establishing a fruit collection of 100 varieties of apples, including many heritage varieties.
The overgrown Spring and Woodland Garden has been transformed and the Regency period flint bridges have been rebuilt.
The team are also engaged in a management programme of the 50-acre St Roche’s Arboretum.
After many years of neglect, the removal of laurel, selective felling, meadow creation and tree and rhododendron planting will create a more open space to highlight the extensive tree collection. Californian Redwoods planted in 1992 are already 30ft high.
West Dean Gardens, part of The Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust, are Grade II* on the National Heritage List for England.
A photographic display illustrating the highlights of 25 Years of Glorious Gardening is now open in the renovated mushroom shed and runs until the end of October. Entry is free with a ticket to West Dean Gardens, which costs £8.50 for adults, free for children.
The gardens are open to the public from February to December. Visit www.westdeangardens.org.uk for more information.
West Dean Gardens, situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester, also comprise West Dean College, West Dean Estate and the West Dean Tapestry Studio.
Glasshouse No. 25, a nectarine and late vinery house, is in need of urgent repair, costing £40,000.
Visit www.westdean.org.uk/gardens for more information and to donate to the Save the Glasshouses appeal online.
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