After a delicious lunch at The Roundabout Hotel in West Chiltington, consisting of blue cheese topped mushrooms followed by seabass fillets, the Fryern Ladies Probus Club relaxed, with coffee and mints, in readiness for their guest speaker – Jim Buttress to talk about ‘A Lifetime in Horticulture’.
Jim was already well known to half of his audience as he is one of the UK’s leading celebrity gardening experts and judge for TV’s Britain in Bloom and The Big Allotment Challenge. However it was a pleasure to meet him in person and to listen as he recounted memories of his earliest childhood days and his individual life’s journey which eventually led to his many present successes.
Born on January 28, 1945 – during the coldest winter on record – he lived with his parents in a flat on the 15th floor of a block overlooking The Gorbals. He admits to being a more than difficult child and recounts the times his desperate mother would leave the old sea captain, who lived next door, to baby sit the young Jim. Her amazement, on return, to see him sleeping peacefully was found later to be due to ‘a drop of whisky’, administered by her neighbour – quite medicinal in those days! The old sea dog obviously took a shine to the youngster and left him £500, in his will, when Jim was aged nine – a substantial amount in those days.
School became a challenge, as the young Jim much preferred to be more out of class than within, and he found the nuns, in his convent school, to lack warmth and compassion. This strict environments usually found him ‘in the wrong’ which suited him down to the ground as the punishment was being sent out to the school’s walled garden ‘to be useful’. This repeated exclusion from class cemented his love for the outdoor life and passion for gardening. He eventually left formal education at 15 after what he describes as a ‘chequered school career’ to become an apprentice with The Royal Horticultural Society at their garden in Surrey.
Eventually, after 10 years working for the GLC, Jim found his greatest joy in managing The Royal Parks which he did for 25 years. However with the advent of privatisation and the computer age – blame Mrs Thatcher and Michael Heseltine – he decided to move on to a different, but successful life in travelling, television, judging and giving around 140 talks annually. In 2006 he was awarded The Victoria Medal of Honour; which is awarded to British horticultural residents in the UK whom The Royal Horticultural Society considers deserving of special honour. This award was established in 1897 in perpetual remembrance of Her Majesty’s glorious reign of 63 years – because of this only 63 medal holders are ever currently honoured – the highest accolade in horticulture.
This judge thrives in an outdoor environment and his dedication has seen him judging competitions all over the world – sharing his knowledge with the public is his greatest passion. We all greatly enjoyed his talk and Marion Attree warmly thanked Jim on our behalf. She said that it was indeed an amusing and interesting treat and cheekily added that his gravelly voice might have been due to the whisky in the bottle. It was indeed in keeping that he won a raffle prize of a potted rose to take home to his nearest and dearest.
Next month we shall welcome our own favourite celebrity Julian Hoad to talk about ‘A Day in the Life of a Vet’. Should you wish for any information about our Probus please call secretary Barbara Yarrow on 01903 743262.
Report by Russ Fry. Picture by The Roundabout Hotel.