Bob Corbin can look back on a lifetime of achievement in groundscare and horticulture. His accreditation as a founder member, Fellow and life member of the IOG and president for ten years adds to a long list of professional accolades:
- Associate of Honour, the Royal Horticultural Society
- Fellow of the Institute of Horticulture, and Achievement Award
- Fellow of the Linnean Society
- Associate member of the Institute of Park & Recreational Administration.
His lifetime spent as a gardener, traveller, lecturer, photographer, journalist, broadcaster, writer and show judge - including, notably, horticultural manager at the Greater London Council - included salutations as being a member of the International Federation of Parks & Recreational Administration, executive committee member of the National Dahlia Society, member of the board of governors of the Norwood Hall Institute of Horticultural & Agricultural Education, member of the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society, committee member of the British Standards Institute (dahlias, trees and shrubs, nursery stock, chrysanthemums and ground cover land use), and committee member of the Arboricultural Association.
In 1999, he was presented with the Institute of Horticulture Achievement Award and, in 2004, was awarded an IOG Lifetime Achievement Award.
Not bad at all for a dyslexic and colour-blind Hampshire lad who started his working life aged 14 "at the bottom of the pile", working as a garden boy for two elderly spinsters in Hampshire. It was a job that set in motion a remarkable career in the world of gardening that saw him working at some of the finest country mansions in the UK and completing a studentship at the Royal Horticultural Society School, Wisley, plus more than three decades working in London starting with the 'reshaping' of the war-torn capital.
A year after starting work for the spinsters Bob was taken on as a garden boy at a large estate employing 16 gardeners and, after a year or so, he was invited to live in the bothy (formerly the stables) of what he described as "a splendid house" set in 86 acres in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire. The establishment also employed butlers, footmen, maids, cooks, chef and chauffeurs and he shared the bothy's living accommodation with five others.
"In those days," he recalled, "it was systematic to change jobs after every second season and I soon realised that no matter how good a hands-on gardener you were, paper qualifications were needed." That said, Bob firmly believed that, despite qualifications, every successful gardener and groundsman seems to have a natural affinity, a knack, for the job.
He set his sights on London to enable him to attend evening classes and, as a result, at the age of 25 he was invited to become a student gardener at the Wisley School of Horticulture. World War II interrupted his studies - he was away for nearly six years with the Royal Navy - and upon demob in 1946 he returned to Wisley to complete the Diploma Course and gain the Advanced Agricultural Certificate.
He moved to London as a gardener and groundsman first class, in a local parks department and, after the war, was appointed landscape assistant at London County Council, and subsequently horticultural manager for the Greater London Council, where he was embroiled in repairing bomb-damaged soft landscaping as well as the construction of new developments. With an 800-strong staff, Bob managed the landscape maintenance of 750,000 housing units covering 620 square miles.
mong Bob's finest achievements as horticultural manager was the landscaping of the heavily blitzed housing estates in war-torn London - he was responsible for planting two million trees throughout the capital - as well as the refurbishment of the Royal Parks including advising HM The Queen on the ceremonial lawns at Buckingham Palace.
Bob was also a keen photographer and it wouldn't be amiss to state that he was the pioneer of the 'how to do it' picture storyboards of horticultural tasks, with his work being published in most of the weekly garden magazines.
He retired from the Greater London Council in 1980 aged 65 after more than 33 years' service and he 'retreated' to a cottage in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, throwing himself into transforming the garden while also taking up a raft of consultancy opportunities. These saw him travel some 35,000 miles by land, sea and air to visit and advise in 21 cities in eight countries across the globe from Australia and New Zealand to China and from Japan to Canada, North America and Africa - to speak and advise on all matters horticultural.
Bob spent his latter years in a care home in Somerset, and would often reflect that he knew life might never be a bed or roses. "But when I add up the thousands of roses and hundreds of rose beds I've created during my career, I suppose in one way it was," he said. "Old gardeners never die, they simply bed down," he added.
This article includes extracts courtesy Robert Corbin and Jen Green, authors of 'Travels of a Bothy Boy'.
Acelebration of his life will take place at Taunton Deane Crematorium on Tuesday 25 October at 2.00pm
Please wear something floral if possible. Donations if desired, to 'Perennial' may be given at the service or sent c/o H Tredwin and Son 15 & 17 North Street Wellington TA21 8LX