Monday, 25 June 2018

Bloom judges praise baskets

HENLEY’S hanging baskets were praised by the Britain in Bloom national judges during a visit this week.

HENLEY’S hanging baskets were praised by the Britain in Bloom national judges during a visit this week.

Jon Wheatley and Brendan Mowforth spent two hours in the town on Monday looking at the floral displays.

Their tour guides were Henley in Bloom chairwoman Kellie Hinton, committee member Elizabeth Hodgkin and the town council’s parks service manager Gareth Bartle.

Henley was the first of nine finalists in the town category of the competition to be judged this week and next.

The judges took more than 100 photographs in order to capture areas of achievement and any in need of improvement.

Mr Wheatley said: “We have had a really wonderful morning seeing some of the excellent work that has been done throughout the community.

“We both feel it is a great start to a wonderful fortnight. Everybody should be really proud of their efforts.”

He noted the Henley Standard’s Buy a Basket campaign, which led to a record 163 baskets being purchased by businesses and residents.

“The business partnership has been exceptional and the baskets make a huge difference,” said Mr Wheatley said. “It gives a ‘wow’ and ‘fun’ factor for everyone visiting the town.”

The judges were collected from the Catherine Wheel, where they had stayed overnight, and escorted to Henley bowls club in Mill Meadows for a presentation.

This was followed by the tour, which included a cruise aboard slipper launch Topsilk, which belongs to town councillor Will Hamilton, from Mill Meadows to Marsh Lock.

Other highlights included a visit to Station Park to see the train-shaped floral display and the fire station in West Street where the judges met the firefighters who have been watering and weeding herb and vegetable beds.

The tour was followed by a lunch at the King’s Arms Barn in Millennium Court with food provided by the Argyll pub in Market Place and town councillor Jeni Wood who made desserts, including banoffee pie, chocolate brownies and lemon torte.

Marisa Francini, a member of Henley in Bloom, created the centrepiece for each table using flowers grown on her allotment.

Guests at the event included Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, Mayoress Catherine Allan-Notaras, town centre manager Peter McConnell and resident David Eggleton, who has helped brighten up the Gainsborough estate.

Councillor Hinton said she was optimistic following the judges’ visit.

“I feel quite positive, although you do not know what is going to happen,” she said. “The judges made us feel really relaxed and although we were aware we were being judged, it was still fun.”

The committee had taken the advice they were given by the regional Britain in Bloom judges, who visited the town a fortnight ago, to swap a visit to a primary school with the boat trip.

“It worked really well and they seemed to really enjoy the experience,” said Cllr Hinton.

The judges were also impressed by the Frank Crisp memorial in Fair Mile cemetery, which was recently restored by the council.

Cllr Hinton said: “He was a Victoria Medal of Honour winner and they said they might do a feature on it for the Royal Horticultural Society.”

She said that help from Henley in Bloom’s 30 Gardening Buddies had been invaluable.

“We are very fortunate as what we have in Henley is great community spirit,” said Cllr Hinton. “It is things like that which are noted by the judges.”

The Buddies completed final preparations for the judges’ tour from 6am on Monday, alongside parks service staff and members of the Henley in Bloom committee.

Their tasks included litter picking, dead-heading flowers on the Reading Road roundabout, removing old posters from lampposts, tidying up the trough in Mill Lane and weeding Greys Hill.

Buddy Caroline Langler filled the baskets of two bicycles with marrows, onions and other vegetables collected from the Waterman’s allotments in a nod to the competition’s “incredible edibles” theme.

Her husband Charles cleaned the bicycles before one was placed outside Henley Cycles in Reading Road and the other outside Monsoon at the main crossroads.

Mrs Langler said: “I wanted to make it look as if somebody had gone shopping, bought lots of veg and chained the bike up to do a bit more shopping.

“Hopefully, it gave the judges a chuckle and it might just give us half a mark more.”

Cllr Hodgkin said: “We had a lovely day — it was perfect really. The town looked fabulous. It was clean and all the bright flowers seemed to have come out in time.”

Mr Wheatley told her that he was very impressed by the windowboxes outside the Rectory in Thames Side as well as the number of hanging baskets in the town centre.

“He also said it was very good that there was just one contractor organising it and taking care of everything as it means they are looked after by a professional,” she said.

“We are still very new to the nationals so it is still a big learning curve — just entering was a big bonus.

“We have made the town look wonderful and we just have to sustain that. I am very proud of what we have achieved.”

The winner of the national competition will be announced at a ceremony in Cleethorpes on October 12.

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