HENLEY narrowly missed out on the top prize in this year’s Britain in Bloom competition.
The town received silver gilt at the Royal Horticultural Society’s national awards ceremony on Saturday but was just two points short of gold.
Click here to view our Henley in Bloom photo gallery
Councillor Kellie Hinton, who chairs the Henley in Bloom committee, refused to be downbeat about the result, saying: “It makes you want to fight because we know we can do better.
“We’ve been given some really positive feedback and good constructive criticism, which should help us in the future.”
The town, which won the regional town title last month, was ranked fourth highest out of the nine finalists, scoring 168 points out of a possible 200. It achieved the gold standard in the horticultural activities and community participation categories and silver for environmental responsibility.
The judges said that Henley in Bloom should be proud of its campaign, which “showcased your beautiful environment and location to the full”. They continued: “There is an exceptional sense of civic pride and community involvement seldom seen throughout the country.
“Henley-on-Thames is a very special place and one could easily rely on the main agencies to develop and maintain the landscape.
“However, the bloom group has enhanced, improved and is an excellent custodian for the community.”
The judges praised the Henley Standard’s Buy a Basket campaign, which led to a record 163 baskets being purchased by businesses and residents.
They said the baskets had made a “real impact” and added: “You are to be congratulated on the way in which you have engaged local businesses in supporting and contributing to the development of a real floral festival.”
The judges also praised the Hit Litter campaign, the free compost scheme in Mill Lane car park, the Gainsborough project and the flora, fungi and bird surveys being carried out in Mill Meadows.
Their suggested improvements included more sustainable planting and involving more young people.
The awards were presented by Bob Flowerdew, who is a panellist on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, at the ceremony in Cleethorpes.
Each bloom group was given 15 minutes to talk through their feedback with the judges the following morning and judge Jon Wheatley offered to visit Henley and advise about what could be done to improve the town’s score.
Cllr Hinton is hoping that the Thames and Chilterns in Bloom Association will pick Henley as one of the three areas to represent the region in next year’s national competition.
She said: “All we can say is we are ready and we want it, it is just a case of whether they think we deserve it.”
Elsewhere, Watlington won a silver award in the large village category.
The town, which was competing in the national finals for the first time, was shortlisted in the conservation and wildlife and environmental responsibility categories.
Tim Horton, chairman of Watlington in Bloom, said: “We faced a real challenge in a tight category and are thrilled to have come away with silver.
“The other seven communities have all been entering the awards for a long time and it is great that we can represent the Chilterns and the county at this level.”
In the town’s feedback, the judges said: “This is the first time Watlington has been entered into the UK finals and they built their entry around conservation and biodiversity.
“The group has stuck to this ethos throughout and has delivered a focused campaign and a very credible first entry.”
The judges said the Paddock was well-designed and maintained to a high standard and also praised the allotments at Watlington Primary School.
They suggested that the group should encourage more floral displays outside shops, refurbish street furniture and develop the idea of planting a community orchard.
Terry Jackson, the group’s co-ordinator, said it felt quite emotional to join the “premier division” just four years after she campaigned for the town to re-enter the competition.
She said: “We left Cleethorpes wanting more from ourselves and the wish to gain even more support next year.”
A gardeners’ question time will take place in Watlington town hall tonight (Friday) from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £5 and will be available on the door.