HENLEY has once again triumphed in the Britain in Bloom competition after being crowned the best town in the Thames and Chilterns region.
Click here to watch our video of the event
The town also retained its gold award for the second year running as it warmed up for next month’s national final of the Royal Horticultural Society competition.
Watlington won five awards, including another victory in the large village category, while Goring Gap took home three awards.
There was also recognition for Sonning Common’s Village Gardeners at the awards ceremony in Reading on Wednesday.
Henley was praised by judges for involving the whole community and for the Henley Standard’s Buy a Basket campaign, which led to a record 170 baskets being purchased by businesses and residents.
Ted Smith, chairman of the Thames and Chilterns in Bloom Association, said: “It is clear that all members of the community, be they businesses, residents or members of the council, have a strong involvement in supporting Henley’s Britain in Bloom initiative.
“Wherever one goes in Henley, there is colour in the form of planters and hanging baskets.
“The ‘Boozers in Bloom’ and restaurants must encourage many visitors to cross their thresholds with their bright displays.
“The river provides a stunning backdrop to those parts of Henley which run alongside the Thames.
“These areas are well used by members of the public and maintaining them to such a high standard must provide its own challenge.”
Mr Smith said judges were impressed with the three shield-shaped flower beds in Mill Meadows, which celebrate the twinning partnership with Bled in Slovenia.
There was also a special mention in the feedback for David Eggleton, who has led a campaign to make the Gainsborough estate more attractive.
The judges are to speak again to the committees before deciding which places are nominated for the national award next year.
Councillor Kellie Hinton, who chairs the Henley in Bloom committee, said it felt “amazing” to win the best town category again.
She said: “I seriously didn’t expect to retain the gold award. It’s extremely hard to keep up with what’s been done before and I’m just thrilled that we have won gold again. If we go through to the nationals again that would be great.”
The winner of the national awards will be announced in Lincolnshire on October 12.
Cllr Hinton said: “We felt really good about both the regional and nationals this year and we can’t wait,” she said. “Obviously the competition is a lot harder there.” Cllr Hinton praised the work of the community groups, such as the Gardening Buddies, Henley Wildlife Group, Henley in Transition and the Gainsborough Residents’ Association.
She said the council’s parks services team had also provided an invaluable help.
Councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin said the key to Henley’s success was hard work.
She said: “We didn’t think it was possible to work any harder but people have worked so hard this year again and whatever happens in the nationals, I think Henley should be really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve.”
Cllr Hodgkin thanked everyone who had got involved and the Henley Standard for the hanging baskets campaign.
She said the Henley in Bloom project had made a “massive improvement” to the town.
“It just gets people behind a campaign,” she said. “Someone stopped me yesterday as I was shopping in Marks & Spencer and said ‘you’re the lady who helps with the flowers — the town looks amazing, thank you very much’.
“Now that happens all the time to all of us and people do appreciate a few flowers.”
The award will be displayed in the information centre at the town hall.
Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said it was “absolutely brilliant” to win again and praised the hard work of the committee and parks manager Gareth Bartle.
Henley MP John Howell said: “It’s excellent and a credit to everyone involved. I think it’s undoubtedly the prettiest place in my constituency.
“To win twice in a row shows a consistent effort with lots of people trying very hard with continued success.” Watlington in Bloom won the silver gilt award and was named best large village in the region. It was also a joint winner of the prize for the best use of edible plants.
It also won two It’s Your Neighbourhood community group awards as Hurdler’s Green and Mansel Gardens were recognised as “developing” groups. Hurdler’s Green also won a lawnmower in a prize draw.
Norman Parker, who introduced the silver gilt award, said Watlington was an attractive and historic market town that was complemented by “tasteful” floral displays.
He said: “An impressive range of groups, businesses and individuals are contributing to Watlington in Bloom in different ways and there is an unusually wide range of events and initiatives linked to the campaign, increasing awareness and encouraging more people to get involved.”
Mr Parker praised the work of the committee, saying members should be “very proud” of what they had achieved.
Tim Horton, chairman of the Watlington in Bloom committee, said: “We’ve done very well across the board. It’s great to win the large village category one more time and is a really fabulous success for us.”
He said they had taken the edible Britain category “very seriously” in work they had done at Watlington care home and in the centre of the town with projects such as the herb garden. Cllr Horton said the committee was looking forward to competing in the national final.
Goring Gap followed up last year’s silver gilt prize with a gold award in the small town category in only its second ever entry.
Mr Smith said the committee had embraced the bloom theme. He said: “Pride is evident throughout Goring and Streatley with colourful displays throughout the main thoroughfare complemented by an exemplary wildlife area in Withymead Nature Reserve and the outstanding efforts of Goring Primary School with their horticultural practices and environmental responsibility.
“The enthusiasm shown by the bloom committee, residents and businesses would be the envy of many towns.”
It was also a joint winner in the overall clean and tidy entry and the school was highly commended in the Mark Mattock Schools Challenge Cup.
Myrna Anderson, a voluntary worker at the school, helped the children to grow fruit and vegetables.
Stephanie Bridle, a member of the organising committee, said she was elated.
She said: “It’s the result of all the volunteers in the village who helped. We’ve introduced the Withymead Nature Reserve to make it a broader entry and we’ve had more hanging baskets.
“The lock-keeper made a special effort to do sustainable planting in the lock and we’ve had more businesses involved. Our litter-pickers were also wonderful. They do it twice a year and always maintain the cleanliness.”
The Village Gardeners received a certificate for carrying out “outstanding” work in Sonning Common in the It’s Your Neighbourhood Awards. They are now considering entering the Britain in Bloom Awards next year.
Chrissie Phillips-Tilbury, who chairs the group, said she was “surprised” at the award.
She said: “We came top of the Oxfordshire category because we were the only ‘outstanding’ group, which is great because it’s only the first year we’ve done it. It has been a joy and pleasure to do. We will now have a big think about whether to do the Britain in Bloom entry. If the group wants to do it, we will.”
Barbara Butler, a member of the group, said she had lived in the village for 40 years and had never seen it look so good.