When I first came to HMP Wymott, I was put on a list to work in the gardens compound. I had no experience of gardening, to be honest, the prospect of working outside in the midst of a Lancashire winter didn't fill me with joy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I began with seeds in the potting shed and I soon graduated outside, learning as I went. One of the pleasures was discovering just how much knowledge some of my fellow workers had and how generous they were in passing it on. As a 57-year-old city boy, I was in a new world and I loved every minute of it. Each day was an adventure.
One of the by-products of working in the gardens is the chance to get close to nature. Among many other plants, trees and bushes, we are blessed with an abundance of buddleia. For a short period of time during the summer these are invaded by swarms of butterflies. I became fascinated by these beautiful creatures and went to the library to find a book about them. I can now identify more than a dozen different species.
As the year progressed, I watched the garden display take shape. Working as part of a team gave me a real sense of camaraderie. At times I forgot I was in prison. I also realised just how much the gardens raised the morale of all who live and work in HMP Wymott. When we won the Windlesham Trophy, judged by the RHS, I felt genuinely proud. The presentation day was fantastic. We had the great privilege of escorting visitors around the grounds. Their feedback confirmed what we already knew… our gardens were bloomin‘ brilliant!
HMP Wymott won the RHS Windlesham Trophy in 2016 for the second time, eight years after first taking the prize. The awards were set up in 1983 to help develop prisoners’ sense of worth and to encourage garden excellence, with gardeners able to work towards RHS qualifications at the same time. RHS judges will be touring participating prisons this summer ahead of the trophy – a redundant ‘Green Goddess’ fire engine bell – being presented to the winner in September.