Prisoners tackle challenging environmental conditions to create a kitchen garden and wildlife haven
HMP Dartmoor in Devon, has been named the best kept prison garden in England and Wales by the RHS and awarded the prestigious Windlesham Trophy for its efforts.
The Windlesham Trophy, devised by Lord Windlesham and first awarded in 1983, celebrates the horticultural success within prisons and promotes the benefits that gardening and green spaces can have on an individual’s wellbeing.
Gardening in challenging climates
Previously a runner-up for the Windlesham Trophy in 2018, this is Dartmoor’s first win following a tightly-fought competition with nine other prison gardens. Set within Dartmoor National Park and around 1,400 feet above sea level, the prison’s location presents a number of climatic challenges for planting and growing. The exposed landscape encouraged the prisoners to capitalise on local gardening knowledge cultivated over a number of years, and carefully consider the plants and materials used to ensure longevity.
Many of the plants were raised directly on the site, making them as hardy as possible and able to thrive in unpredictable weather conditions. The 200-year-old prison has now been transformed with planters and raised beds, bringing vibrant colour to the previously austere yards and public areas.
Protecting the environment and biodiversity
A significant focus on the gardens at Dartmoor is to provide habitats for wildlife. Leaving the ponds and grassed areas to grow wild, they have also built a hibernaculum for reptiles and amphibians, encouraging native species to thrive and breed. In addition, the gardens feature an insect hotel made from reclaimed and recycled materials as well as an apiary for Cornish Black bees.
Supporting self-sufficiency is another environmental project at the heart of the Dartmoor gardens, with a number of flavourful crops being grown in the raised beds providing an extensive and diverse range of high quality vegetables for the kitchen.
A life-changing experience
Gardening instructors at Dartmoor encourage the teams involved to engage fully with their projects, creating a sense of ownership and promoting the initial values of gardening and horticulture that inspired the origin of the competition.
RHS judge Jon Wheatley said: ‘The wonderful gardens display quality horticulture and management that shows excellence, commitment and teamwork throughout. There is a whole-team ethos at Dartmoor that is clearly evident as soon as you enter and was described by one inmate as a life-changing learning and working experience.’
HM Prison Dartmoor Governor Steve Mead added: ‘I am extremely proud of the fantastic work our prisoners do. Winning the Windlesham Trophy is a huge achievement and an acknowledgement of the dedication and effort shown by the gardening team. Congratulations to them all.’
Find out more about RHS community gardening