This 26th annual Daily Mail National Garden Competition is an amazing demonstration of how many talented amateur gardeners are available in Britain.

The competition attracted hundreds of participants from all over the country, with plots that ranged from tiny urban gardens to large country estates.

‘We loved the variety of entries for the 2021 competition and whittling it down to a shortlist of just four was no easy task,’ says the head judge, garden designer Tim Sharples. ‘We have chosen four gardens that are quite different but all equally inspirational.’

The winner will receive £2,000 and the famous blue plaque. Here are the profiles of four gardeners who were shortlisted. 

What made a playground into a paradise? 

Stuart Jones, 80, who ran an engineering company before his retirement, lives with his wife Jane, 76, in Staines, Middlesex

Stuart Jones, 80. He was an engineer before retiring and lives in Staines (Middlesex) with Jane.

Their garden blends flowers such as fuchsias (above)

... with foliage plants and conifers (pictured)

The garden combines flowers like fuchsias with conifers and foliage plants.

Stuart Jones (80), who owned an engineering firm before retiring, lives in Staines with Jane, 76.

Stuart and Jane Jones’s garden is a tale of two halves. The garden was their playground for twenty years. It allowed them to let their kids run wild, have fun playing ball and create as many mess as they liked. It has evolved from being a play area to becoming a paradise for plants over the last two decades.

The couple first spotted their house – which is just 200 metres from the Thames – when they passed it in their boat while it was being built. ‘We bought it in 1981 and the garden then was just mud – totally featureless,’ says Stuart. ‘Our house was built on what had been the garden of a big estate, so the soil was magnificent. Unfortunately, the builders sold off the topsoil, so the ground was like concrete most of the time, except when it rained and it turned to jelly.’

Once they had reclaimed the 22m x 12m garden from their children, they started by putting in a pond – now home to several koi carp – a rockery and a waterfall. Stuart, his son, built the pond and created the seating area with trellis. It has been cleverly designed to conceal the filter that will be used in the pond.

The pond served as the focal point of the garden. To make it more interesting, they created a number of borders. They planted evergreen shrubs such as euphorbia and pieris, as well as flowering plants like verbascums. ‘Because of the backbone of evergreens, the garden really doesn’t look that much different in winter, just less colourful,’ says Stuart.

The trees were planted at the border of their garden to protect it from neighbours. A palm tree was placed by the pond to add much-needed shade. An olive tree and graceful silverbirch are also favorites. ‘We put it in when it was about 1m tall and now it’s over 18m,’ says Stuart.

The small, black bridge that crosses the pond and the bamboo thicket give the garden a Japanese vibe. The garden is dotted with acers (or Japanese maples), which provide autumn colour. ‘We’ve definitely been influenced by Japanese style,’ says Stuart.

‘The garden has really evolved naturally, without being drawn out on paper, although we knew that we wanted it to have a touch of mystery and be laid out in such a way that you couldn’t see it all in one go. Because we were trying to find the perfect size and angle for the pond, the only thing we thought about carefully was the rest of the garden. The rest of it has just happened organically.’

Stuart is a former draughtsman for the auto industry. Jane manages the planting. ‘She has the final say on the colour scheme,’ Stuart says. ‘I love bold colours, whereas Jane is very keen on foliage plants. Although we have many disagreements over the garden, some heated, we always come to a mutual agreement. It’s very much a joint project.’

Over the past 40 years, this garden has made a complete circle. Having started out as a children’s play area, it’s now a favourite place for Jane and Stuart’s three grandchildren, especially during epic Easter egg hunts. ‘We love sharing the garden with the family and, during lockdown, it kept us sane,’ says Stuart. ‘We feel very lucky to have it.’

The Judges’ Statements 

‘On entering the garden you are greeted with a sensational panorama, followed by a series of interlocking rooms that skilfully use the landscape around it to give depth and extra interest.’

A lost garden can be a refuge for you. 

Phil Torr, 68, is retired from running a steel shipping business. He lives in Margaretting in Essex with his wife Carol, 53, an artist, and their three children, Max, 24, Charlie, 21, and Henry, 18

Phil Torr is a retired steel shipowner. His wife Carol is 53 and he resides in Margaretting with their three children Max (24), Charlie (21) and Henry (18).

The Garden of Peace and Reconciliation with its ingenious church façade, pictured

The Garden of Peace and Reconciliation with its ingenious church façade, pictured

The stunning plot (pictured above) is divided into colour themed areas

This stunning plot is split into color themed areas (pictured above). 

Phil Torr is a retired steel shipowner. His wife Carol is 53 and he resides in Margaretting with their three children Max (24), Charlie (21) and Henry (18).

Phil Torr was unaware that the restoration of its neglected garden would bring him solace during his worst times.

‘I’ve always been obsessed with doing places up and when I saw Peacocks, a big Georgian pile that hadn’t been touched since the 1950s, I knew I’d found the final frontier of house restoration,’ he says. ‘The garden was bordering on derelict – I jokingly called it the Lost Garden of Margaretting. It was so full of self-seeded trees and brambles there were areas I didn’t even know existed for a while after I bought it.’

Sadly, some years after moving to Peacocks, Phil’s first wife Sarah died. Phil was trying to balance his work and caring for his children. He found that gardening offered him a great escape. ‘It was hugely therapeutic. There was so much to do; it was a project I could really get my teeth into.’

Two areas, which were once tennis courts and had become completely overgrown, became his focus. A friend of a building contractor helped him transform the tennis court measuring 36 m x 18 m into an English walled yard. ‘We had to completely rebuild the brick walls and paths – we ended up using 20,000 bricks,’ says Phil.

The sundial and pergola were elements of his garden design. He divided the garden into colour-themed areas – purple and mauve, hot reds and yellow and white. ‘I love roses, more for their perfume than anything else. My favourites are the pale pink “Scepter’d Isle” and apricot “The Lark Ascending”.

‘I’m also passionate about agapanthus. They are grown in small pots all around my garden. I also have one whole bed, called the Cornish corner. Because they grow in Cornwall like weeds, I keep them in pots. I’d particularly recommend the tall, dark blue “Loch Hope”.’

Phil’s design for the second tennis court was ambitious. He calls the Garden of Peace and Reconciliation, which combines elements from many faiths. The garden is reminiscent of the Alhambra’s Islamic Gardens in Spain. It features a water feature resembling a fountain and myrtle hedge. There’s also a Medlar tree that originated in Middle East, but was popularized in England during medieval times.

One corner has an English-language chamomile law, while the other has a Hindu plaque. Along one side of the garden is what looks like a church but is actually a façade (‘it conceals the compost heap’), built with cedar shingles and recycled oak beams. Based on Phil’s experience in Cuba, the windows have been inspired by a Cuban church design.

An old paddock is located adjacent to both the garden and has been transformed into an orchard and wildflower meadow. ‘I visited Great Dixter in East Sussex when their wildflower meadow was in flower and I thought it was amazing,’ says Phil.

Planting a traditional wildflower meadow is complex business, but he did his research and the result is magnificent, with cowslips and narcissi in spring, followed by snake’s head fritillaries and then 27 different types of wildflowers. The apple trees are planted in the old-fashioned way, randomly spaced rather than in rows, which, he says, ‘looks beautiful and is great for wildlife.’

Phil has happily married Carol and they love the garden as much as him. He says, ‘I still have a lot to learn but I think I’m becoming a good plantsman. This garden has been my life’s work and I’ve never regretted the time and effort I’ve put in. This place has sustained me through thick and thin.’

Peacocks’ garden will again be available to charity visitors under the National Garden Scheme for 2022. Visit

The Judges’ Statements

‘Phil has created distinct garden areas, each with their own individual narrative, all well designed and beautifully gardened.’

Fantastic, Front and Back 

Carole Johnson }(pictured), 76, lives near Harrogate with her husband Michael, 79

Carole Johnson }(pictured), 76, lives near Harrogate with her husband Michael, 79

The couple, who are retired, used to run the British branch of children’s furniture company Stompa. Their garden is pictured

The couple, who are retired, used to run the British branch of children’s furniture company Stompa. This is their garden.

Carole set about tackling the garden (pictured) on her own – husband Michael is ‘very handy for holding a ladder but he doesn’t enjoy gardening at all’

Carole set about tackling the garden (pictured) on her own – husband Michael is ‘very handy for holding a ladder but he doesn’t enjoy gardening at all’

Carole Johnson (76), lives in Harrogate, with Michael Johnson, 79. The couple, who are retired, used to run the British branch of children’s furniture company Stompa.

It would seem depressing for many to give up a beloved, large garden and move on to something small and boring. Carole Johnson saw it as an opportunity.

‘Seven years ago we moved within the same village from a Georgian house with half an acre of garden to a 1970s house with a small front and back garden,’ Carole says. ‘It had a patch of lawn, a 4.5m conifer hedge and not much else, so it was full of potential.’

Carole set about tackling the garden on her own – husband Michael is ‘very handy for holding a ladder but he doesn’t enjoy gardening at all’ – and she was determined to make use of every inch of space, not least because she’d brought a lot of plants from her old garden. The front garden needed to be as beautiful and fascinating as the back. Carole took on the challenge. ‘For lots of people, a front garden is just something that leads up to the door, but I really wanted it to be a destination in itself.’

The front garden measures 7.5m by 7.5m and includes a seating area featuring a curve bench backed with wooden sleepers. It is also planted with ornamental grasses. ‘It means we can sit in the front garden and be completely private – no one knows you’re there,’ Carole says. She opted for a colour palette of orange, bronze and yellow, and the planting includes cordylines, rudbeckias, Lysimachia ciliata ‘Firecracker’, hemerocallis, geums and heucheras, as well as the sumptuous tangerine-orange rose, ‘Lady Hamilton’.

By way of contrast, the colour scheme in the back garden is a romantic mix of soft pinks, blues and white, with Carole’s beloved roses taking centre stage as they scramble over pergolas and arbours. ‘I adore roses, the look of them and the fragrance,’ she says. ‘I have the pink rose “Harlow Carr” dotted around the place, and the pale pink rambler “Paul’s Himalayan Musk”, with a honeysuckle weaving through it. The sight and the smell is quite something.’ Around the roses, Carole has planted hardy geraniums – her favourites are purple-pink ‘Sirak’ and blue ‘Nimbus’ – astrantias, campanulas, ferns and hostas, followed by a beautiful display of late-summer phlox. ‘I try to have something of interest in the garden right through the seasons. In winter, for instance, we have lovely colour from the dogwoods.’

A lawn is the one thing that’s missing from this garden. ‘In our last garden we had a lot of lawn and although I loved it when the grass was looking pristine, it was a lot of work, so I made the decision not to have any here. I miss the feel of grass underfoot but it makes life a lot simpler.’

Carole likes to travel and find inspiration in other gardens. She has three favourites: RHS Harlow Carr (after whom her rose is named), York Gate, Newby Hall. ‘I often come back with ideas for my own garden,’ she says.

The latest project she is working on is to plant a semi-shade area with Alchemilla maollis, bronze grasses, and ferns. ‘This garden will never be finished,’ Carole says. ‘That’s why gardening is so satisfying; however long you’ve been doing it, there are always more things to learn.’

The Judges’ Statements

‘Carole has cultivated every inch of this garden, both front and back, with wonderful use of form, texture and especially colour.’ 

East Midlands: A little bit of the medicine 

Michelle Malcolm, 52, a florist, is married to Gary, 55, who works in insurance. They live in South Normanton in Derbyshire

Michelle Malcolm (52), a florist is married to Gary (55) who works as an insurance agent. The couple lives in South Normanton (Delaware).

Michelle Malcolm is 52 years old and a florist. Gary Malcolm is 55. Gary works in insurance. The couple lives in South Normanton, Derbyshire.

Michelle Malcolm had a small garden when she moved in 21 years earlier. It consisted of one patch of grass and some conifers. There was also a lot of concrete. ‘It was awful. I wasn’t interested in gardening and didn’t feel inspired to do anything,’ she recalls. ‘I wouldn’t have known where to start.’

Michelle’s mother Norma had other ideas and kept arranging trips to nurseries and garden centres. ‘I found them boring,’ Michelle admits. ‘But after a while I gave in and bought the odd plant. They were planted in the wrong spot. Gradually, I got more enthusiastic about the garden and thought maybe I could make something of it.’

Michelle chose a garden to bring back fond memories of her holidays in Greece or Italy. ‘I love tropical plants and I wanted something to remind me of hot, sunny days, even if the weather at home wasn’t good,’ she says. ‘I came up with a design that had pergolas, seating and big, bold plants that would make an impact and remind me of the Mediterranean.’

Her best purchases were two tree ferns, which survive all year round if they’re wrapped up in straw for the winter. The drama-filled environment is enhanced by the addition of statueesque plants such as the Trachycarpus fortunei and Fatsia japonica.

Michelle loves hostas because of their large leaves. However, they can be a hassle to maintain. ‘I work hard to keep the slugs off them,’ she says. ‘I’m quite often out there at midnight, armed with a torch, picking off the slugs and snails which are eating the leaves. It sounds mad but that’s the best way to protect them.’

Early summer’s colour palette is mostly of white, cream, and lavender. By late summer, the heat has risen with hot cannas and geoums as well as hanging baskets of orange and peach begonias. ‘I know people are snooty about begonias but I wouldn’t be without them – and they’re so useful because they flower well in part-shade,’ Michelle says. The theatrical effect is enhanced by the use of bright blue containers with neatly cut box balls.

Gary, Gary’s husband does all the heavy lifting like building pergolas or laying pavers. His electrical talents allow the garden to be lit nightly with color-changing lights and hanging lanterns that are equipped with tea lights. ‘It’s very private,’ says Michelle. ‘We’re in our own little world.’

She may once have had to be dragged round garden centres, but Michelle now can’t keep away from them – and in fact she has worked in one for the past eight years and is about to embark on a new career as a florist.

‘When I heard from the judges that I was a finalist in the National Garden Competition I actually cried,’ she says. ‘From having been a complete beginner to having this kind of validation for my garden is an incredible feeling.’ 

These are the words of Judges

‘Michelle has created her own tropical paradise in the East Midlands, using modern materials to dramatic effect.’