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Peter Seabrook Eulogy by Howard Drury

Peter Seabrook Eulogy

Horticulturist Howard Drury gave a eulogy at Peter Seabrook's funeral on 24 February.

Peter Seabrook Chelsea

"I know every single one of you here today will have the fondest memories of Peter, each in your different ways, I have been asked by Alison and Roger to represent horticulture and to say a few words. Trying to get all those memories we hold into just a few words has proved very difficult.

"It was Peter's love of his floral ties that made us friends many years ago. Last September Peter walked up to me with his beaming grin, pointed to his magnificent tie and remarked glad to see you are keeping up the standards then. I understand many people gave Peter ties, coming across them in many ways, with a dozen from Keukenhof alone. This tie is very appropriately called Think of Me and has violas which will be planted this spring at his Floral Fantasia at Hyde Hall.

"Writtle College provided Peter with his sound all round practical knowledge, something so important and missing today. Perhaps it was this that saw Peter encouraging people to train in horticulture.

"Peter made gardening programmes, videos and podcasts; in one video Peter showed how to make sure the compost was moist enough to use and how to correctly handle seedlings by their seed leaves. Something so missing today. Many years later, I saw footage of him removing a tree in his 80s! He was a true all-round professional and able to communicate his skills.

"He championed growing your own fruit and vegetables from a small plot that took just one hour a week many years ago, something that is now becoming the thing to do! Peter was 40 years ahead of his time.

"When I first started presenting on Central TV, I would attend press events and meet Peter, who took me like so many other newbies under his wing. He pointed out my Edinburgh Botanic qualifications had given me the sound practical knowledge, so essential for presenting a gardening programme. He said they can make a horticulturalist into a presenter, never the other way round.

"I worked with Peter on a Gardeners' Question time panel for charity. Peter was a valuable team member, answering questions on anything and everything. He knew just how to share out the answers and gently correct your answer if it was not spot on.

"Peter wrote many top-selling books, some of which are still regarded as classics, such as Dig This written in 1975 and which, I believe, sold almost a million copies.

"It was his ease of communicating those horticultural skills that earned him some 8 million viewers and 10 million readers who followed him over his 40 plus years writing for the Sun. I hear he would take an apple in for the editor, claiming that way he was guaranteed at least three minutes with the editor! Mind you, he wasn’t always on time with his copy. There were often more pressing tasks in the garden than getting the copy in on time. Articles and television would bring in many viewers or readers’ questions, and although he had a great team around him at the Sun, Peter still preferred to answer the many letters in longhand. He would always sign off ‘In Haste’.

"He was a champion, he would stick up for anything he believed in, and even made a few enemies if people disagreed with him, the peat issue being typical, I think I may be one of the very few who supported Peter in thinking it must be a level playing field. I understand from a survey that 70% of the trade say they are not yet able to go totally peat-free.

"One man campaigner – he would launch new plants and products once he had tried them, no better example than when he selected Verbena ‘Margaret’s Memory’ and raised over £7,000 in doing so, he told me he hadn’t raised the money, it was the people who purchased the plants, typical of his modesty. Peter recently took the RHS to task over their green plans for paper bags at their flower shows, reversing their plans.

"Whilst having a fantastic knowledge of all aspects of gardening, he also knew the trade and the essential relationship between the two, something no one else ever achieved. Peter was an ambassador for our trade. All the individual companies put together in our profession could never buy the subtle advertising he did for our profession.

"He had an outstanding ability to communicate with everyone from the Queen at Chelsea (to whom he would offer a posy) fellow horticulturalists, through to the general public and down to young school children, everyone was a winner in his eyes especially if they were disadvantaged in any way.

"He started Sunflower Street, originally from an article for his column in The Sun and based on four gardens each 16ft x 16ft in 1977 which went on literally to grow in huge displays. Peter was a champion with gardens at Chelsea.

"Nothing was impossible, he was never demanding but always able to effortlessly achieve the impossible. He had the ability to make things happen. At one show I witnessed a group of people come to Peter with a problem, they were desperately short of plants for their display. Peter asked them to give him a few minutes and literally as he reappeared so did loads of plants to finish the stand in grand style. Peter always kept his word.

"He was always on the search for new, better plants which he could try to promote, but you could never bribe him. Whenever he was at a trial ground or nursery, Peter was always last off the trial ground. He was always asking questions at any event he was present at. He always wanted to know more, listening to those answers, and writing frantically at the same time. One trip in Holland saw him without a notebook, so quietly he got out his cheque book and started writing on the reverse of his cheques! Another incident saw him sitting in the dark for two hours watching images of new introductions, including carrots and their attributes. We were informed the lights would go on to sample the carrots and answer questions. Peter stood up and asked why we hadn’t been given the carrots at the start, as it would have enabled him to see what he was writing.

"It was this quest for better plants that led him to develop the Floral Fantasia at RHS Hyde Hall, which we must keep going as just one of Peter's legacies. He went in almost every day during the pandemic to plant and nurture the displays. The family flowers here today were arranged by two florists, Gemma and Robyn, incorporating some material from Peter's garden and Hyde Hall and with help of a husband who works at the RHS garden.

"I believe all of us found him to be kind, generous and compassionate and approachable at all levels. He had never ending enthusiasm, stamina and energy, if he could have bottled it we would all have been in the queue for huge amounts.

"He was awarded several important honours, Victoria Medal of Honour in 2003, only 63 horticulturists can hold the VMH at any given time, to commemorate the 63 years of Queen Victoria's reign. MBE in 2005 and the Harlow Carr Medal, honouring his significant contributions to horticulture. He was the only person to hold all three awards.

"Peter told colleagues 20 years ago he was going to retire and pass over to Steve and Val, but Peter couldn’t retire. As always, Peter was desperately busy right to the very end; in the days before his death, he was showing school children how to raise mighty oaks from acorns for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Green Canopy. and discussing with nurseries which plants to grow and why. Some here even spoke or exchanged emails the evening before his death.

"He was a visionary, looking to the future of our trade and the education and wellbeing of gardeners. We must carry that vision forward. 

"I hope a little of Peter rubs off on us all, and especially each of us here today, if we can continue following Peter's aspirations collectively, we might just equal what Peter did single-handed, quietly and in his usual unassuming way. 

"Last autumn, Peter invited me to give a talk this September to the local gardening club here in Galleywood, which Peter had supported for many years. I might just change the title to 'The men who inspired me' I will make every effort to make that talk the best talk I have ever given as I know Peter will be looking down on me and each of us here today.

"Peter Seabrook - my tribute to the greatest horticulturalist of all time."

Image is designed and maintained by Darren Hodson © 2022, The Drurys