Every year, I team up with the Prince’s Foundation to run a competition known as Young Gardeners of the Year.

Students from six of the UK’s top landscaping and horticultural colleges compete to be crowned Young Gardeners of the Year, and this year the competition is taking place at the prestigious Royal Ascot racecourse as part of their first ever Spring Garden Show. The students have just six days to build and plant their gardens, which are then judged by a panel of industry experts and voted for by members of the public.

The show is a fantastic gateway into the industry for students, arming them with invaluable first-hand experience creating show gardens from scratch before they even leave their college gates.

Young gardeners of the year logo
Ascot flowers

The brief this year was to create a back-garden haven for an urban house in a small plot including important elements of sustainability such as the use of local materials. The gardens should also incorporate an equestrian theme as a nod to the new venue.

Below you will find a brief outline of each of the colleges and their gardens, including exciting build photos, exclusive interviews with the students for their take on the competition, and spectacular photos of the finished gardens.


Northern Soul

The Myerscough students have created a tranquil haven that boasts a ‘living edible wall’, making the most of every square inch of space to grow your own vegetables.

Sustainability is key in this garden, with all materials being sourced locally and with the paving draining into the rill and pond, allowing the overflow to be reused to irrigate the vertical garden.

The planting scheme is designed in such a way as not only to add colour and form to the garden but also to encourage a variety of native wildlife and insects. The two tiers of paving are easy to maintain and will look good all year round.

The Student Perspective: Adam Riley

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Level 3 Diploma in Landscape

Q: How long did it take to come up with the design of the garden?
A: It’s hard to say how long exactly because of the nature of designing and sourcing products. Approximately six days in total.

Q: What do you think you’ll take away from the experience?
A: It’s been really nice to be able to talk with other colleges and up and coming landscapers.

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: I love lavender for the garden.

mysercough build
Mysercough build

The Finished Garden

The students worked hard to complete this fantastic urban garden with some really unique features including a  bespoke metal sculpture and clever use of vertical planting. The look is fresh and modern with contemporary lighting and fun colourful seating.

mysercough judges
Myerscough finished
Myerscough build
Myerscough build globe sculpture


Her Colours

Writtle’s garden represents a calm tranquil and harmonious space to escape from everyday working life.

The water stepping stones provide a journey away from all stresses. The water will also act as a catchment area for harvesting water that can be used as irrigation for the garden plants.

Carex ‘Prarie fire’ grasses are planted in swathes which provide calming movement and a gently sound, inter planted with Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ to provide some of the colours in this landscape.

A multistem Prunus Accolade provides cover and shape with in the space and comes out to one side of the deck.

The Student Perspective: James Durham

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Level 3 Extended Diploma in Horticulture

Q: What do you think you’ll take away from the experience?
A: I now know exactly how much effort and work goes into creating a show garden. I feel the skills developed here will help as I build my career. 

Q: What is your favourite part of the design?
A: The contemporary instillationon the back wall, which was designed to represent a birds eye view of  raceday. 

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: Carex ‘Prarie Fire’ for its colour and texture

writtle build
writtle build

The Finished Garden

Writtle’s finished garden is a beautifully sleek and modern space offset by the pretty pink blossom from the prunus accolade. The abstract instillation of race day is a particularly clever feature.

Writtle judges
writtle finished
writtle garden
writtle garden


Superfoods for Horse and Human

This “Superfoods” garden from Reaseheath aims to provide growing space for a nutritious and delicious range of plants to promote health benefits for both humans and horses.

Beds at different levels provide accessible foods for picking, with the addition of preparation areas to create a functional space for active, health-conscious equestrians.

The focus of the space is on practicality with planting combinations providing colour and texture.

Vertical elements are in the form of structures and planting to provide additional interest and the choice of materials reflects a focus on sustainability.

The Student Perspective: Alex Rae

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Credit Diploma in Horticulture

Q: What do you enjoy most about studying horticulture?
A: I love the practical aspects of horticulture and the joys of creating a garden for a client to really enhance their space. 

Q: What advice would you give to next year’s entrants?
A: Be ready for the unexpected and try to think on your feet. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience!

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: I love structural shrubs that are interesting visually but also edible – like blueberries. 

Reaseheath build
reaseheath build

The Finished Garden

The tiered raised beds employed here are a clever use of a small space and lend a wonderfully country feel to an urban location. Light colours open up the garden and a variety of textures are also used.

Reaseheath judges
reaseheath finished
Reaseheath watering plants
Reaseheath garden beds

Capel Manor

Kelleway’s Corner

Capel Manor’s garden is based on the silks of Gay Kelleway, the first female jockey to win at Royal Ascot in 1987.

You enter the garden between raised beds that are made from recycled scaffold boards and planted with herbs and mixed planting.

The chamfered edges allow rainfall to flow back into the beds thereby reducing run off.

The side boundaries are purple beech that are good for biodiversity, are sustainable, help with noise reduction, have good autumn colour and keep their leaves in winter which makes them an attractive all year interest plant.

The Student Perspective: Helen Benstead-Smith

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Level 2 Apprenticeship in Horticulture

Q: What do you enjoy most about studying horticulture?
A: I love the variety it brings. There are so many different topics to learn and each species of plant is unique.

Q: How did you feel when you found out you would be building a show garden at Ascot?
A: Excited, I had previously helped out at Chelsea but this was my first opportunity to be involved from the beginning. We’ve done everything together as a team.

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: I love ferns, like the Asplenium Trichomanes we have planted. 

capel manor build
Capel Manor build

The Finished Garden

Capel Manor’s finished garden is stylish yet functional with a zig zag stone path to create the illusion of a larger space. The planting scheme brings lovely hints to the colour scheme based on Kelleway.

capel Manor judges
capel manor finished
Capel Manor garden
Capel manor garden


The Winner’s Circle

Pershore’s garden is inspired by sustainability and a love of equestrian pursuits.

The students have encouraged nature through the placement of wildlife byways allowing for the movement of hedgehogs alongside a green roof pergola to attract insects and provide a pleasant outlook across the garden.

The microclimate provided by the urban environment allows for a planting scheme which is drought tolerant and minimal maintenance.

Meanwhile, the garden itself harmonises the increased need for sustainable gardens with a bio barrel to assist and help with processing heavy downpours and flash flooding by holding water and gently filtering it back into the ground.

The Student Perspective: Amanda Pearce

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Horticulture BSC (Hons)

Q: How did you feel when you found out you would be building a show garden at Ascot?
A: I was ecstatic! I love networking and can see what an amazing opportunity it is not only for the experience but to boost my own self-confidence too.

Q: Post young gardeners, what is your gardening ambition now?
A: I want to finish my degree and then pursue project management or therapeutic horticulture as well as more design work.

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: I really like cacti and agaves. 

pershore build
Pershore build

The Finished Garden

Pershore’s finished garden is minimal and cool with great use of drought resistant planting. Wildlife are well catered to in this garden as well, which is a lovely additional feature.

Pershore garden finished
Pershore finished
Pershore garden finished
Pershore garden finished hedgehog highway


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Shuttleworth’s garden is composed of ideas to benefit both the ecosystem and the owner.

All construction materials are either made from reused timber, plastics and locally sourced plants and the design aims to be as sustainable as possible while being practical for an urban setting.

The tiered raised bed featured in the garden has a pipe installed to allow water to drain through the media and through the reed bed, allowing water soluble nutrients to pass through and be utilised, controlling surface water.

Sound, touch, taste and smell have been incorporated to provide a truly three-dimensional design with the use of water features and a variety of textured plants for a natural wind chime effect.

The Student Perspective: Tom O’Regan

Q: What course are you studying?
A: Horticulture BTEC

Q: What made you choose a career in horticulture?
A: After working in IT and struggling with depression and anxiety, I decided to make a career change to something I can really enjoy.

Q: What do you think you’ll take away from Young Gardeners of the Year?
A: Organisation is key!

Q:What is your favourite plant?
A: I love honeysuckle for its evening scent, ease of care and benefits to wildlife.

shuttleworth build
shuttleworth build

The Finished Garden

Shuttleworth’s garden is a rustic and eco-friendly take on an urban space. The use of hugel kultur (composting using decaying wood debris from raised beds, benefiting the plants in the beds) is particularly inspiring.

shuttleworth judges
shuttleworth finished
Shuttleworth finished garden
Shuttleworth finished garden

See more amazing photos from this year’s competition by following Young Gardeners of the Year on social media;