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History of the competition

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The stories of how the competition got underway originally are very mixed but, suffice it to say that, by 1990 the competition had a regular slot in the Institute of Horticulture (IoH) calendar of events, with the organisers of the Shrewsbury Flower Show Shropshire Horticultural Society, through its Percy Thrower Trust, providing the major sponsorship of the Grand Final in the form of a travel bursary, now £2,500 per annum. This continued support has ensured that this high profile annual event continues to attract the highest calibre of contestants to the three phases of the competition. The competition has been privileged to have Anne Kirkham, one of the late Percy Thrower’s daughters attending the competition over recent years to present the prizes. 

Previous winners - The first record of a national winner is Mark Baker in 1990 when the National Final was held at Writtle College in Essex under the Presidency of the late Des Day. Michael Myers won in 1991 and is now a Lecturer at Craven College, Skipton. He went off to the Philippines with his then £1,000 Travel Bursary. 1992 gave David Ennis the chance to enjoy the limelight – he decided that the RHS Dictionary would be more valuable to him than travelling halfway round the world. 1993 saw James Wickham win and go off to the Himalayas. He worked for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine at one point in his career. In 1994 David O’Donohue was the winner and enjoyed a trip to Madeira. 1995 gave Guy Clapham a chance to experience New Zealand as part of his prize. 1996 was Scott Falliss’s turn and he went off to Canada to study. Graeme Suddick won in 1997 and he was followed in 1998 by Neil Robbins how went travelling across Europe. 1999 gave Michael Smith a chance to visit France, Italy and Switzerland.

In more recent times, Mark Browne won at Shrewsbury Town Hall in 2000, went off to Madeira to study its complex flora and is now Head of Horticulture at Hartbury College. In 2001, the year of Foot and Mouth Disease, Mark Duffell won at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show and then had a fantastic trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. He now works as a Botanist.

Rocky Coles, aged 19, won at Cambridge Botanic Gardens in 2002 and then went to New Zealand to study nursery stock production. He now runs his own landscape and consultancy company in the south of England – his article was published in the Institute’s journal, The Horticulturist, Volume 14 No.4.

On the Instituite's first visit to the Liverpool University Botanic Gardens at Ness in 2003, Mel Clench won and went to South Africa to study its incredible natural flora – where are you now Mel? Please get in touch with the Institute.

 2004 saw the Institute for the first time at RHS Gardens Wisley and Dean Marston took the top spot.

Michael Evans, the winner in 2005 at Birmingham Botanic Gardens, the year the BBC cameras came in as part of the Year at Kew series, went off to Soqotra in the Indian Ocean and his report was published in The Horticulturist Volume 17 No.1 Winter 2008.

In 2008 Ben Turner, having won at the first Grand Final at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in 2006, went off to the Amazon and Rio Negro to study the flora and fauna of that incredible area of the world. His fascinating report was published in The Horticulturist Volume 17 No.4 Autumn 2008. Ben had previously produced a very good article, in The Horticulturist Volume 16 No.4 Autumn 2007 on how to engage young people in our industry – even more relevant today than it was those few, short years ago. In 2007 the Institute had a wonderful trip to Ireland and Glasnevin Botanic Gardens where Jimmy O’Connor won. Where are you now Jimmy? Please get in touch with the Institute.

2008 saw Patrick Wiltshire win the Grand Final at his third attempt at The Eden Project in Cornwall under the presidency of the late David Miller. Sue Minter, one of the Institute’s past Presidents, acted as Question Master. Patrick went off to North America to visit gardens and horticultural organisations. You can read his article in The Horticulturist Volume 19 No.3 Summer 2010. He is now working for the Marshall’s Seed.

In 2009 the Institute visited the National Botanic Garden of Wales where Alex Summers won after a closely fought battle with James Hearsum and Faye Steer. He used his £2,000 travel bursary to visit Borneo to study parasitic plants. His superb report and excellent photographs can be found in The Horticulturist Volume20 No.3 Summer 2011.

Faye Steer, the 2010 winner, went to Yunnan Province in China with her travel bursary and her report was published in The Horticulturist Volume 21 No.1. Winter2012. Faye is now Deputy Head Gardener at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

Suzanne Moss, the 2011 winner at the Bramell Learning Centre, RHS Gardens Harlow Carr, went to the USA to study how public gardens interpret information for the public. (The Horticulturist Volume 22 No.2 Spring 2013). Suzanne is now the South East Branch Organiser for the competition and works for the RHS. One of our previous runners up, Ian Roofe, is now the YHoY Regional Organiser for the Eastern Branch, ably assisted in the 2013 regional competition by Rocky Coles acting as Question Master.

The 2012 Grand Final was held at RBG Edinburgh, where Leigh Morris, Immediate Past-President, and a previous competitor in the YHoY competition, was Question Master, with the West Midlands and South Wales Branch Regional winner Douglas Mackay taking the top spot. Douglas is now the Institute's Honorary Secretary and works at RHS Wisley.

The 2013 Grand Final was once again held at Liverpool University’s Ness Botanic Gardens, Wirral, with Jez Stamp from the South East Branch the worthy winner of the Percy Thrower Trust £2000 Travel Bursary. We wait with baited breath to hear what Jez intends to use his £2,000 Percy Thrower Travel Bursary for but it is sure to be related to hardy trees and shrubs – he classifies himself as a woody plantaholic!

Chris Parsons took the top prize at the John Innes Institute in Norfolk in the 2014 competition after three previous attempts and is now working at Lord Heseltine’s Arboretum in Oxfordshire.

Following the grant of a Royal Charter by her Majesty the Queen in July 2014, the competition became the Chartered Institute of Horticulture Young Horticulturist of the Year competition. The 2015 Grand Final was held at Barrington Court National Trust property in Somerset and was ably won by Jessica Evans, Head Gardener at Tintinhull Gardens. Jess had also competed in the 2014 Grand Final. 

For the first 10 years, the competition was run using slide transparencies and today it is run using a PowerPoint presentation of 40 multiple choice questions, with four alternative answers – one of the many changes and improvements that have taken place over the years to modernise the competition.

Sponsorship at national and regional level has come and gone over the years, with Nat West Bank providing regional final prize money for a number of years. In recent years MorePeople, the AHDB, Wyevale Garden Centres and Rollins Bulldog Tools have generously provided support to the competition and we can now offer prizes and prize money at every stage of the competition to the top heat and Regional Final and the Grand Final. 

Where are they now? To help us fill in the gaps in the history of the competition we would like to hear from any previous winners, so, if you were a Young Horticulturist of the Year winner at any time from 1990 to 2015, please contact us Where did you visit to spend your Percy Thrower Trust Travel Bursary? Are you still in the industry?  What effect did winning the competition have on your career opportunities? Are you still in contact with other regional or national winners of the competition. 

2016 competition If you are a young horticulturist, below the age of 30 (at 31 July 2016), you can enter the competition and have the opportunity to win a £2,500 travel bursary find out how to take part  




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Last updated: 22/09/2015 13:34