HENLEY has once again triumphed in the Britain in Bloom competition after being crowned the best town in the Thames and Chilterns region.
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
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.”