Mapperton House & Gardens, and Gresgarth Hall, are announced the winners of the Historic Houses Garden of the Year Award 2020

Mapperton House, Dorset, home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich and their family, is crowned 2020 Historic Houses Garden of the Year in a record-breaking public vote.

The Earl and Countess of Sandwich have expressed their delight at the family seat, Mapperton House in Dorset, winning the prestigious Historic Houses Garden of the Year Award for 2020. Speaking at today’s Historic Houses national AGM and awards ceremony, Caroline, Lady Sandwich, thanked the public who voted for Mapperton in record-breaking numbers. Almost twelve thousand votes were cast in total for the eight shortlisted gardens, with Mapperton claiming almost a quarter.

All the finalists are part of Historic Houses, a not-for-profit cooperative association representing the UK’s largest collection of independently owned heritage. All offer free entry to Historic Houses members – a fifty-thousand strong group of supporters of the association’s work. Despite the constraints on sightseeing imposed this year by coronavirus, all shortlisted gardens were able to offer socially distanced public access at some point over the summer, as well as fighting a good-natured social media battle to woo fans who couldn’t make it in person.

Winner boosted by online access

The award, which has been running since 1984 and is sponsored by the auction house Christie’s, has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with a dramatic rise in the level of public participation from a British public who are more in love with country houses than ever. Not prepared to let lockdown keep the public away, film-maker son and heir Luke and TV presenter wife Julie (Viscount and Viscountess Hinchingbrooke) filmed and broadcast homemade virtual tours of the chocolate-vox manor house – called, ‘the nation’s finest,’ by Country Life magazine. The popularity of the short video visits may have helped push them over the line to victory.

New award this year rewards smaller gardens

A second award has been created this year to reflect smaller and less well-known gardens that are none the less worthy of recognition. Lady Cholmeley (Ursula), of Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire. chairman of the Historic Houses Gardens Committee, said, ‘The judges’ choice might be considered the lifetime achievement award for gardens that may be open in a limited way or on a budget, but that shine with creativity, resilience and personality and still deserve global recognition for their standard of design, complexity of planting and great beauty.’

Ursula interviews the award’s inaugural winner in a short online film, showcasing the magical valley setting of Gresgarth Hall, home to Sir Mark and Lady Lennox Boyd (Arabella). ‘I like winning awards – I like being good at something,’ Arabella told Historic Houses members, ‘and for my team its wonderful – they’ll really feel connected to it’. The garden employs five people – small on the scale of many of the association’s members, who together account for 33,000 FTE jobs across the UK, but still an important contribution to employment in a rural area.

Coronavirus challenges

The award will help Gresgarth overcome the challenges of the pandemic, which have affected so many heritage sites so seriously this year, and at their worst threaten redundancies or closures on a large scale. ’Attracting more people is important,’ Arabella says. ‘We do need people here. We were one of the first gardens to reopen – in June – and we needed the income.’