GARDENING’S power to transform lives for the better, build friendships and reduce loneliness were celebrated at an awards event at Syon Park.

The Gardening Against The Odds Awards, took place on Thursday April 4 at the Great Conservatory of the famous residence of the Duke of Northumberland, off Park Road, in Isleworth.

Master of the greenfingers and noted television presenter Alan Titchmarsh was the guest speaker and the overall winner, Sajeda Kadir, received her award from the Duchess of Northumberland, creator of the famous Alnwick Garden. Despite his own fame, Mr Titchmarsh received a big round of applause when he told the assembled guests that he thought gardeners and farmers should be role models, rather than celebrities.

Sajeda, who came to London as a teenager from Bangladesh, has turned a disused adventure playground on a Camden housing estate into a gloriously productive vegetable garden for the community pot. She was nominated by Groundwork London.

In memory of the writer Elspeth Thompson, the annual awards, which are organised by The Conservation Foundation, founded in 1982, in association with The Sunday Telegraph, celebrate those who garden in the face of physical, psychological or environmental ‘odds’, creating beauty for others to enjoy.

The judges, who include world famous conservationist David Bellamy, actress Susan Hampshire and leading gardening personalities, commended Sajeda’s skill in transforming a derelict spot into a productive garden, while caring for two children with disabilities. Joint runners-up, the gardeners of St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots, received their award for the garden at St John’s Waterloo from the Right Reverend James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and the Church of England’s lead bishop on healthcare.

The other runner up, Niki Preston from Peterborough, has become an enthusiastic gardener, despite being born with only two fingers and is also a champion of other gardeners with physical disabilities.

David Shreeve, director of The Conservation Foundation and one of the judges, said “It is heartening to see how odds of all kinds are no excuse for so many people who simply get on, get at it and get so much
out of their gardens.”

Gardeners travelled from other parts of the UK to receive their awards. They were joined by last year’s winners, the 25 gardeners from Southend’s Huntington’s Disease Association, whose allotment is now a place of happiness for those who, in the past, rarely left their homes.

The ceremony also saw the launch of Gardeners Against The Odds, a new programme led by The Conservation Foundation which will involve other organisations in the field of therapeutic gardening and include help and practical support to those who want to garden against the odds. Award winners, their nominators and guests also had the opportunity of a guided tour of Syon’s celebrated gardens by the Duchess of Northumberland and head gardener Topher Martyn.

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