AS SPORTING contests go, the competitors are more, well, flora than Paula.

But the flower beds of one South London hospital were hailed as champions last week when the green-fingered groundsmen that tend them won first prize in a London-wide competition for the best-kept hospital gardens.

Gardeners from St George’s Hospital in Tooting won the category of hospital garden over one hectare in an annual horticultural contest organised by the London Gardens Society.

The competition is now in its 51st year.

The gardening team is led by Head Gardener Bob Holdawanski.

“I’m really chuffed,” says Bob, who has worked at St George’s Hospital for the last 15 years. “The boys really put the hard work in this year.

“Winning first place is really good for the team and the hospital but what really makes us proud is the feedback we get from staff and patients who say how nice the grounds look nowadays.”

The hospital last won the Challenge Cup back in 2002. But its prize-winning gardeners, many of whom are local volunteers with learning disabilities, failed to repeat their success in later competitions, coming a disappointing second in all the clashes since then.

First prize last year went to a private hospital in the capital.

The gardeners however have never forgotten their former glory and ever since their 2002 victory have vowed to reclaim their former title.

Bob and his team maintain three and a half hectares of land around the site of St George’s Hospital every day.

The grounds are home to over 90 different types of tree, including witch elms, Japanese maples and dawn redwood, several hundred species of flower and an abundance of wildlife.

The team have several projects in the pipeline for this year including a temperate garden to “remind people of where they have been on holiday” and a project to re-landscape the hospital’s pharmacy garden.