Recently, the RHS announced their champion of this year’s best kept prison garden in England and Wales for 2012, and this year’s winner of the Windlesham Trophy is HM Prison Whatton in Nottinghamshire.
After the second heat of the competition, during which the entrants were whittled down to a mere 25, Whatton won for the first time since the year 2000, and this is partly due to the rising quality of their entry, but mostly due to the fact that their grounds have undergone extensive renovation and expansion, which no doubt contributed to their victory this year.
One of the most impressive aspects of Whatton’s garden was the integration of the old site with the newly expanded area and also of the support given to local ecology, through the use of wildflower meadows (on a micro scale of course) within the space, together with wildlife ponds. They also grow vegetables to be used in the prison kitchens.
I’ve written on several occasions about the rehabilitative benefits of horticultural work, specifically among wounded veterans of the armed forces and repeat drug users, but the same therapeutic effects work for prisoners too.
The effects of such a task are not only immediate but more crucially, persistent, as gardening is a perpetual task. The sense of ritual and routine that will often inhibit an ex-convict in the outside world if they are stripped of them too quickly after years of adherence, can be carried on in a far more constructive and rewarding sense where horticulture is concerned. It also gives prisoners a sense of pride in their surroundings and a feeling of investment in their own environment.
It is a vindicating happening for those involved in the initiative, as its founder Lord Windlesham was chairman of Britain’s parole board system when he started the project – obviously he too saw the beneficial value of such a pastime.
By Josh Ellison