Traditional gardening competition near Banbury has resurfaced, raising hundreds of pounds for NHS and food banks

Gardening has been a great source of comfort for many during the pandemic
Alison and Chris Bayliss. Photo by Barry Taylor.Alison and Chris Bayliss. Photo by Barry Taylor.
Alison and Chris Bayliss. Photo by Barry Taylor.

A sunflower growing competition in Great and Little Bourton has raised over £400 for local NHS charities and foodbanks.

Villagers were encouraged to make charitable donations in exchange for sunflower seeds, with prizes for the botanists who could grow the tallest sunflower.

The villages’ gardening club used to run the sunflower growing competition well into the 1990s, and resurrected the tradition during lockdown.

Henry Cutler and competition judge Brian Cannon. Photo by Barry Taylor.Henry Cutler and competition judge Brian Cannon. Photo by Barry Taylor.
Henry Cutler and competition judge Brian Cannon. Photo by Barry Taylor.

Alison Bayliss, owner of Banbury Pets pet food, won the adults’ competition with an 11ft 6in sunflower that she grew in her vegetable garden, while Henry Cutler, aged seven, won the children’s competition, with an 8ft 4in sunflower he grew at his grandfather’s allotment.

Alison Bayliss decided to turn her front lawn into a vegetable garden in late March, when supply lines were disrupted by panic buying.

She said: “We started it on the Saturday that was just before proper lockdown.

“That’s when food was short and you couldn’t get everything you wanted.

“All of the timber is from the house and the fence that came down during the renovation.

“It’s been fantastic fun.”

Event organiser Ann Brooks said: “If you haven’t got a back garden, the allotments can be quite a lifeline, generally.

“In spring this year, when we went into lockdown, Great Bourton resident Julie Tomlin started wondering whether resurrecting the competition would give gardeners of all ages something fun to do over what looked at the time to be a few quite bleak months.

“’Bourtons Big Bloomers’ was born.

“It was decided to offer tiny homemade packets containing five seeds, all of the same variety, to any resident of Great and Little Bourton who wanted to make a donation to charity.

“The project raised over £430 for NHS charities and local food banks.”


Gardening has proven a crucial source of comfort during this stressful year, with one recent survey by the National Garden Scheme finding that during lockdown, access to a garden or other outdoor space was key to physical and mental health.

87.7 per cent of respondents said access to outdoor spaces contributed to their mental wellbeing,

while 78.2 per cent said it helped them appreciate nature.

69.4 per cent of people said outdoor exercise had helped them maintain their physical fitness, while 100% of respondents from urban areas with window boxes said proximity to nature reduced their stress.

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