Army officer's award-winning restoration of WWII 'secret garden'

Army officer Captain Vicki Gosling with Chicksands Conservation Group volunteers

Army officer Captain Vicki Gosling has transformed the walled garden at Chicksands Priory with the help of volunteers - Credit: Ministry of Defence

Volunteers who lovingly restored a Grade II listed overgrown walled garden at a former top secret World War II listening post have won two Ministry of Defence conservation awards.

For its Chicksands Historic Walled Garden Project, Chicksands Conservation Group won the Silver Otter Trophy for best conservation effort and the Social Value, Community and Heritage Award at the annual Defence Sanctuary Awards, which recognise outstanding conservation and sustainability effort across the MOD estate.

Restored walled garden at Chicksands Priory

Chicksands Priory's walled garden has been lovingly restored - Credit: Ministry of Defence

The community walled garden is part of Chicksands Priory, which is now home to Defence Intelligence. The priory played a significant part in World War II by intercepting and logging coded enemy transmissions which were sent directly to Bletchley Park to be decoded and analysed. 

Chicksands Conservation Group volunteers carried out an action plan to rescue the garden, designed and led by army officer Captain Vicki Gosling.

They began in November 2019 and the first few months saw them rigorously clearing what had become a wilderness due to years of neglect. 

Restored walled garden at Chicksands Priory

Volunteers spent months clearing wilderness, after years of neglect - Credit: Ministry of Defence


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Waist-high grass was chopped down to reveal memorial plaques to members of the Y service - a unit of radio operators who manned secret radio-listening stations in the UK and around the world during World War II. 

To raise money to buy tools for the volunteers to use, plants were propagated and sold, raising more than £500. 

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Allotments have been created using old railway sleepers destined for landfill, and vegetable beds have been restored. 

Cleared walled garden at Chicksands Priory

The enthusiastic gardeners had a blank canvas once the overgrowth had been cleared - Credit: Ministry of Defence

A vine now has a burgeoning grape crop where last year there was none, and the plan is to produce a wine to raise further funds. 

The next stage is to restore the glasshouse.

Inside the glasshouse in the walled garden at Chicksands Priory

The glasshouse is set to be restored to its former glory - Credit: Ministry of Defence

Captain Gosling said: “The team is extremely proud and thrilled to have won the awards. It is a fantastic testimony to the commitment of the team.” 

The Honourable Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, who presented the virtual awards, said: “The judges were impressed with the stunning garden transformation photographs, which were like finding a secret garden. 

“The project has great social value. A community project with heritage, volunteering, wildlife, green space, community wellbeing and military benefit.” 

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