OXFORD in Bloom judges are hoping for better weather this year as the annual contest is launched.

Entries were down last year, because of the hosepipe ban followed by prolonged heavy rain.

But come rain or shine this year, gardeners are being encouraged to get to work and enter the contest, which counts towards the city’s regional Britain in Bloom entry.

John Alcock, who has been an Oxford in Bloom judge for 26 years, said: “Last year I think people were worried about the hosepipe ban and this meant not as many people did their garden and then the wet weather did not do some of the plants any good.

“The rain also put people off.

“It has been cold this year and this has put people behind. We do need lots of sunshine.”

He is hoping there will be more entries this year. He added: “First of all, we encourage people to do their gardens, it is not just about winning prizes.

“We look for plenty of colour, tidiness and any exceptional design.

“It has been a bad 12 months with the weather last April and then the hosepipe ban.”

But Mr Alcock, who is from Littlemore and works at Yarnton Nursery, added: “We have felt the effect at the nursery with the cold weather, but people are coming in now to buy their plants.”

Individual gardeners, businesses, schools and community groups within the city boundary are invited to enter the competition.

Categories include best kept garden, beautiful containers, balconies, plus commercial and community displays as well as junior Oxford in Bloom and gardening for the disabled.

Chairman of the Oxford in Bloom committee, Karen Roberts, who has been involved in the contest for 20 years, said: “The Oxford in Bloom competition has been going for many years and is an important part of Oxford life for the many residents that enter year after year.

“I hope that this year we will have the support of the regular entrants and that new residents will feel inspired to enter as well.”

Prizes, which range from £25 to £100, are awarded to the top three in each category.

Winners also receive a certificate and trophy.

A new category for Barton in Bloom launches this year in partnership with estate residents and Oxford City Council.

Judges, who will include representatives from the Royal Society of Horticulturists, a previous winner and experienced gardeners, will be looking at entries on Monday, July 2.

Each category and entrant will be judged on colour, impact, tidiness and quality, choice and arrangement of planting.

For more information, call the city council’s parks service on 01865 252240, email parks@ oxford.gov.uk or visit oxford.gov.uk. Entries can be submitted at oxford.gov.uk /oxfordinbloom, and application forms are available from council offices, Templars Square shopping centre and customer services outlets. The closing date for entries is Monday, July 1, for schools and nurseries and Monday, July 15 for all other categories.