There is no greater accolade for a working gardener than to be invited by the Royal Horticultural Society to become an Associate of Honour. Val Anderson, Head Gardener at Antony in Cornwall, recently received this award in recognition both of her 35 years of outstanding work at Antony and of her passion and dedication to the training of the gardeners of the future. Many current National Trust gardeners owe their start in horticulture to Val’s inspirational guidance, encouragement and commitment during their three-year traineeships at Antony.
There are never more than 100 RHS Associates of Honour at any one time, so this truly is a rare and distinguished achievement. Val collected her gold medal at Hampton Court last summer in exalted horticultural company, including Sir Roy Strong, Alan Titchmarsh and Roy Lancaster (who took the photograph, left). ‘It was’, Val said, ‘really special, great fun and one of the best days of my life’. Her proudest moment came when John Sales, formerly the Trust’s chief gardens adviser, said that her award was ‘richly deserved’, to which we would all say: hear hear!
Val at the awards ceremony, flanked by former National Trust colleagues Peter Hall (left), who also received the Assoiciate of Honour, and Michael Hickson (right), formerly Head Gardener at Knightshayes Court, who received the Victoria Medal of Honour.
At the start of her career, Val worked in commercial nurseries and her main interest was in propagating; she never expected to become involved in amenity horticulture and says of Antony ‘when I came here, I wasn’t stopping’. But it got to her, as it does to so many visitors who return again and again to enjoy the beautiful formal garden around the 18th-century house, and the huge and glorious woodland garden that is owned by the Carew-Pole family who gave Antony to the Trust in 1961 and still live here today. Val says: ‘It’s the whole thing: the setting, the staff and volunteers who work here, the plant collection, the way that the garden has developed so much… it just draws me back all the time.’
The woodland garden reopens on 1 March; the house and garden on 29 March. The year-long Alice Experience, inspired by the filming of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland here, is no more but Alice fans will be still be able to discover the rabbit hole in the garden.