Press Release: Head Gardeners win Custodian Award

Head Gardeners at West Dean, husband and wife team, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain have been awarded Horticulture Week Custodian Award for their lifetime's work in revitalising the 19th century landscape. This year marks 25 years since Jim and Sarah began transforming the derelict 92-acre site into award-winning gardens, in the wake of the Great Storms of 1987. In the years since 1991, they have overseen tremendous changes which have brought the gardens international respect for both the quality and variety of horticultural practice. As part The Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust, equally important was a design that facilitated maintenance with limited resources to ensure sustainability. Jim and Sarah determined to work within the historic framework and build on its diverse characteristics, adding their own contemporary contributions as had previous generations.

Said Kate Lowe, editor, and chair of the Horticulture Week Custodian Awards judging panel: "Our judging panel was deeply impressed with the commitment, dedication and skill of Sarah Wain and Jim Buckland and all that they have achieved at West Dean Gardens. They have developed their team and the landscape raising the prominence of the gardens in the process to great heights."

Jim, an Honours Graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has managed gardens in Australia and the UK. He is an Associate of Honour of the RHS (2013), conferred for distinguished service to horticulture in the transformation of West Dean Gardens.

"It is a great honour for our work to be recognised in this way, an honour shared by all who have been involved in the project; our excellent gardens staff, our craftsmen building team, our board of trustees and many, many more. A treat for everybody!" says Jim.

In recognition of her contribution to West Dean, Australia-born Sarah was awarded The Professional Gardeners Guild 'Loyal and Outstanding Service Award' in recognition the highest horticultural standards and the Institute of Horticulture Award.

Inspired by the BBC's Victorian Kitchen Garden (1987) Jim and Sarah's first project was to restore the kitchen garden to a semblance of its earlier glory, including a two-year restoration of 13 Victorian glasshouses. Designed by Foster & Pearson between 1895 and 1901, they are the jewel in the crown of the walled garden and some of the few working glasshouses in the UK. The 35-acre ornamental grounds act as a foil to the many heritage features. Further si gnificant projects undertaken over the past 25 years include the rebuilding of a 300-foot Edwardian Pergola designed by Harold Peto, and in pieces on the floor after storm damage; the re-design of an award-winning Sunken Garden; establishing a fruit collection of 100 varieties of apples, including many heritage varieties; the transformation of an overgrown Spring and Woodland Garden, and rebuilding the Regency period flint bridges. The team are engaged in a management programme of the 50-acre St. Roche's Arboretum. After many years of neglect the removal of laurel, selective felling, meadow creation and tree and Rhododendron planting will create a more open space to highlight the extensive tree collection. Californian Redwoods planted in 1992 are already 30 feet high.

Jim and Sarah head up a team of nine permanent gardeners, 40 volunteers (eight per day), including international volunteers and a Historic and Botanic Gardens Training Programme trainee. Passing on their knowledge and skills is an important element of their work. The team have undertaken everything from hard landscaping, tarmacking, metal fabrication and the vast bulk of arboricultural work, in addition to the comprehensive range of horticultural activities.

West Dean Gardens are Grade II* on the National Heritage List for England. A photographic display illustrating the highlights of 25 Years of Glorious Gardening is now open in the renovated 'mushroom shed' at West Dean Gardens and runs until the end of October.


Notes to editors

  • West Dean Gardens is part of The Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust, also comprising West Dean College, West Dean Estate and the West Dean Tapestry Studio. Charity No. 1126084.
  • Glasshouse No. 25 a nectarine and late vinery house is now in need or urgent repair at a cost of £40,000. For more information and to donate to the Save the Glasshouses appeal online visit
  • Horticulture Week Custodian awards
  • 25 Years of Glorious Gardening exhibition from now until the end of October. Free entry with a ticket to West Dean Gardens (adult standard entry £8.50, children go FREE). gardens are open to the public from February to December. Visit
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes.
  • West Dean College and Gardens are situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London.

Media Contact Information

For further information, high-resolution digital images of filming opportunities contact

Irene Caswell, Senior Media Officer, +44 (0)1243 818301


West Dean College, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 OQZ