A look at the winners of 2017 East Midlands in Bloom

Belper's Waterwheel, designed, built and planted by Stewart Hopkinson, supervisor of the outdoor staff team at Belper Town...

Belper's Waterwheel, designed, built and planted by Stewart Hopkinson, supervisor of the outdoor staff team at Belper Town Council - Credit: N/A

With lighter nights and better weather, thoughts turn to gardening. Ashley Franklin looks at the local results of East Midlands in Bloom 2017

Elmton Well Dressing

Elmton Well Dressing - Credit: N/A

Derbyshire towns and villages are once again blooming with pride having clutched a bouquet of awards at last year’s East Midlands in Bloom (EMIB). Out of 57 main entries to EMIB, Belper won Best Town for a remarkable seventh time in eight years, while Draycott won Small Town for the first time. Although Elmton and Middleton-by-Wirksworth just fell short of Gold status – picking up Silver Gilt – both won their village categories for the third year running. Furthermore, there were Gold awards for Long Eaton, Chesterfield, Ilkeston and Darley Dale even though they weren’t crowned category winners.

Achieving Gold or Silver Gilt status is considered to be very prestigious. Gold, for instance, signifies ‘an exceptional level of excellence’ and that excellence is attained through more than floral displays. Although marks are gained for horticultural expertise, the Bloom judges devote equal attention to maintenance of the local environment and community participation.

One only has to look at the achievements of the small north Derbyshire village of Elmton to see how the Bloom competition can transform a community. Their first entry in 2005 received a Bronze award and 115 points, in 2017 they earned 160 points and achieved their fifth category win in eight years – a superlative feat for a village with a population of 80.

As Barry Davies, Chair of the Elmton Community Association points out: ‘Prior to entering Bloom, we had two main village events – a Well Dressing and a Christmas Carol singaround. Today, Bloom is a year-round project which has brought our community closer together. The legacy can be seen all around us – in improved planting, wildlife areas, seating and recognition of the village’s heritage.’

Wildlife which has come to Straws Bridge Nature Reserve, Ilkeston, winner of the Best Wildflower & Conservation Area Award.

Wildlife which has come to Straws Bridge Nature Reserve, Ilkeston, winner of the Best Wildflower & Conservation Area Award. Clockwise from Top Left: Common spotted Orchid, Great Crested Grebe, Blue Tailed Damselfy, Water Vole - Credit: N/A

During 2017, the village Well Dressing became part of the Elmton Festival which also included the NGS Open Gardens Scheme with five gardens opening. The village also renovated the Carriage House, which now has a defibrillator, and created a community orchard, a picnic bench on the village green, three interpretation boards – one of which details a village walk – and a community archaeology project. Also, a Big Local grant enabled Elmton to purchase its own marquee where the celebration event – with a jazz band and BBQ – was held in the garden of local pub The Elm Tree. It was attended by three-quarters of the village.

‘Vital to our success is that most residents are involved in “the Bloom” in some way,’ Barry points out, ‘and they love it because it creates a sense of ownership and they take pride in making a difference.’

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Further initiatives are planned for Elmton in 2018, with Gold status a tantalising ten points away. There’s even more incentive for the Bloom volunteers in Middleton-by-Wirksworth who won the Village category but missed out on Gold by only one point.

Judges praised the ‘enthusiastic group of residents and gardeners for their gem of a village.’ There was particular praise for the ‘inventiveness and colour’ of the many private gardens and the way the village balanced formal planting and wildflower conservation, with the Judges’ Award going to the volunteers who kept the site of local pub The Rising Sun both tidy and attractive during its period of closure.

Belper’s achievement in winning Best Town is all the more impressive given that six of the eleven towns in this category also struck Gold. Belper’s Bloom effort in 2017 reflected what town councillor John Nelson describes as the town’s ‘commitment and passion’, which saw Belper achieve eight consecutive Gold awards and win the Large Town category for the seventh time. A month after East Midlands in Bloom, Belper was also awarded Gold in Britain in Bloom with John Nelson rewarded with a Community Champion Award for being the driving force behind Belper’s Bloom campaign and his ‘dedication and determination to do the best for his town.’

Also in the Large Town category, Long Eaton gained a fourth consecutive Gold and Ilkeston its third, while Chesterfield and Darley Dale struck Gold for the second year running. Ilkeston also carried off the Best Wildflower & Conservation Area Award for Straw’s Bridge Nature Reserve. Built on the site of the old West Hallam Sewage Works, the reserve consists of three lakes amidst rich grassland and a host of wildflowers which have attracted an extraordinarily wide range of wildlife. The enthusiastic Friends group was applauded for its support work including willow weaving, the planting of new trees and the making of bird and bat boxes.

Another discretionary award went to Clay Cross for Best Floral Entrance Display. In the Urban Community category, Littleover secured Silver while St Peter’s C of E Junior School in the suburb gained Gold in the Best School Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

There was also Gold for first-time entrant Brenda Rendell of Hatton in the Frank Constable Award for Best Residential Garden. Brenda was quick to thank her gardening help Paul Green and to pay tribute to her late husband Richard, who died six years ago and whose love of gardening has continued to inspire her. As Brenda points out: ‘Richard always said to me, “I do this for my love for you”, and I’m doing this for my love for him. This garden keeps his memory alive.’

Arguably, the finest achievement amongst the Derbyshire entrants was in the Small Town category, where Draycott struck Gold for the second consecutive year and won the category in only its fourth year of entering. Key to their success, according to member Alison Bowley, is constant dedication to the cause: ‘There are always volunteers happy to turn out when asked to dig, plant, weed and water, which is always a massive task.’ However, Alison also points out that with the judging based on Community and Sustainability as well as Horticulture, any Bloom effort needs commitment from a wide spectrum of the community, not just the green-fingered residents: ‘Yes, the great thing about Bloom is that we have volunteers who don’t have any gardening know-how yet can offer other skills such as building, woodworking, sewing and fund-raising, and we get a lot of practical help from local businesses as well as their sponsorship. Some people are just happy to help by litter-picking and, as the judging day looms, it feels as if the whole village is getting behind the campaign, even if some residents just stop for a chat while you’re planting to offer encouragement and good luck.’

It’s no surprise to hear that Draycott in Bloom has galvanised the village. ‘Apart from looking brighter and more colourful throughout the year, we’ve seen a resurgence in community spirit,’ says Alison. ‘New friendships have been formed and new community groups established, such as the Draycott Sounds Choir and Draycott Sewing Group. Also, many annual activities like Open Gardens, Scarecrow Weekend and Dickensian Christmas provide extra funds for purchasing containers, plants, bulbs, compost and the like.

‘To think we started this because certain areas of the village looked neglected and needed some TLC. Now look at where we are. There is so much pride in the place.’ Better still, Draycott – along with Elmton – will be representing the East Midlands in this year’s Britain in Bloom.

Also in the Small Town category, Darley Dale won Gold for the second year running, with Bakewell earning Silver Gilt. Breaston impressed by winning Silver in its first year of entering and, as a bonus, the village was chosen to be featured in a BBC 2 TV programme Blooming Marvellous which will be screened this spring.

Many other Derbyshire community and neighbourhood groups, schools, pubs, hotels, gardens and business premises won awards. For the full results of EMIB 2017, go to www.eastmidlandsinbloom.co.uk. For results of the national RHS Britain in Bloom competition go to www.rhs.org.uk/communities/campaigns/britain-in-bloom

East Midlands in Bloom is hosting a New Entrants Workshop on Thursday, 22nd February at Kegworth Village Hall. For more details email info@eastmidlandsinbloom.co.uk or call Jeff/Irene Bates on 01332 679598.