Two council gardeners are taking up the opportunity of going on extended gardening leave after dedicating a combined 82 years to making Durham City look blooming great.
Durham County Council’s green-fingered flower masters, Brian Palmer, age 60, and Philip Robson, will both retire on Wednesday, 24 May – Philip’s 65th birthday.
The gardening duo, who both started working for Durham City Council back in 1976, have committed their entire working lives to tending the city’s landscape and horticultural environment – cultivating 41 years of service apiece.
A regular sight in the city, Brian and Philip have carried out summer duties such as grass cutting, flower bed planting, pruning, watering hanging baskets, planting trees and winter maintenance like sweeping autumn leaves, hedging and, as quoted by Brian, “just doing what needed to be done.”
With their ‘can do’ attitude, Brian and Philip have also been committed to the delivery of Durham City’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) In Bloom campaigns.
Along with their range of jobs, the pair have always been involved in the planting of the annual summer carpet bed display situated at the entry point of the city, from the A690 roundabout, at Gilesgate.
Such dedication has helped the city win the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Northumbria in Bloom ‘Best Large Town/Small City’ category on fourteen occasions and three Golds in the national RHS Britain in Bloom competition, including the prestigious ‘Champion of Champions’ category.
With reputable working relationships with the Durham in Bloom group, Durham University, the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral, Durham Business Improvement District (BID), Durham Agency Against Crime (HAGGRID) project and the many schools and community groups, Brian and Philip have thoroughly enjoyed working outdoors and inspiring future horticultural interest
Reflecting over the years, Brian fondly recalls the visit of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to Durham City in 1980. He remembers paying particular attention to dressing floral fuchsia decorations on fireplaces and centrepieces in Durham Castle to make sure the buds and blossoms were fit for a queen.
In addition, Philip recollects on the beginning of his gardening career ‘working on the sites’ in the city’s neighbouring villages and sharing a camaraderie with local residents and businesses. Also, helping to install play equipment in children’s play parks.
As witnesses to many changes over the years, including the transition of Durham City’s Wharton Park, both are very proud that it’s now restored to its former glory and have enjoyed getting positive feedback from visitors and residents for their greener credentials.
Building on their blossoming acclaim, Oliver Sherratt, Chair of the County Durham Environment Partnership awarded the pair with ‘Caring for your Environment’ Awards to thank them both for their hard work, passion and devotion to making Durham so beautiful.
Oliver said: “Brian and Philip are two hardy perennials whose roots are well and truly anchored in the rich soils of Durham.
“Through their green fingers, not only have we seen some fantastic displays over the years, but they have also nurtured a crop of new gardeners who look up to them for the experience they bring.
“We wish them and their families all the very best for the future. They will be missed.”
Asked what Brian and Philip will miss most about working for Durham County Council’s Clean and Green teams, Brian explained: “I’m so proud to help Durham City win Northumbria in Bloom and secure Golds in Britain in Bloom on so many occasions.
“Working in the city centre means we’re at the ‘front of the scene’ and get to see and chat to a lot of tourists, visitors and the locals – who regularly compliment us on the beautiful hanging baskets, displays and planters.
“I’ll miss working with colleagues and the many friendships I’ve made over the years. And managers who have always made me feel like my ideas are welcome.”
Philip agreed, stating, “I’ll miss Durham City; the people and being part of the team. Generally just mucking in and getting the job done.
“Last year’s floral installations of the St Cuthbert’s Cross and the Bishops Mitre are sights to see, so I’m glad they’re coming back to Durham again this summer.”
As Brian and Philip plan retirement and life ‘behind the scenes’, Brian hopes to spend time restoring vintage tractors and Philip hopes to have the time to tend to his own garden.
However, both concluded that they would not miss wet and cold winters and hope retirement brings warmer climes and relaxing times.