Organisers of Ilkley's Millennium garden scheme are celebrating after it was granted Millennium Green status.

The Countryside Agency has awarded the Darwin Gardens project a £26,925 grant along with the prestigious title.

And top novelist Jilly Cooper, who grew up in the town and will officially open the gardens, has agreed to be a Millennium Champion.

Dr Peter Harnett, of the Darwin Gardens Trust, has been leading the project to transform West View Park into a Millennium garden and maze.

He said: "I'm overjoyed that we have had such recognition. With this funding the full green will be completed over the next few years and we are very pleased to join up with the Countryside Agency."

Stephanie Mifsud, Millennium Green organiser for the Countryside Agency, said: "We think it's a cracking project which meets all of our criteria. It is an excellent location with lots of community involvement and the ideas that have been put forward are exactly what we wanted.

"And we are delighted that Jilly has agreed to be a Champion. It's always great when a national celebrity wants to get involved."

Jilly will perform the official opening ceremony and unveil a plaque dedicated to Charles Darwin on June 24. The scientist, who put forward the theory of evolution, is known to have stayed in Ilkley and has leant his name to the gardens project.

Jilly said: "I think it's wonderful and I'm absolutely knocked out that they want me to be a Champion."

She added: "Most of my family including my grandfather and grandmother lived in Ilkley and I have a lot of love for it. I'm looking forward to the opening, it's going to be pretty spectacular.

"As a child I used to play in the grounds and it's a really exciting place. I can't wait to see what they have done with it."

The event will include a children's procession based on the theme of evolution, a performance by the Ilkley Players and a special dance show by the Yorkshire Dale Workshop.

The garden's pavement maze, designed by John Haigh, will feature 1,000 flagstones to represent the 1,000 years which make a Millennium.

Members of the public, including Jilly, have sponsored some of the stones which will be individually numbered with the sponsor's name appearing on a special maze map.

e-mail: alexandra.phillips

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