Bob's Biog

In brief

I love: gardening, scented plants, good food, cats, beautiful women, erudite conversation, reading, etymology, public speaking, invention, outrageous ideas, scuba diving, and whinging on about the state of things. I dislike: bad, bland and factory food, over egged political correctness, the state of things, humour-less prigs, self-opinionated hypocrites and anyone else like me continually whinging on about the state of things.

Born a farmer's son I have always loved the natural world and would rather be outside -if not in a library. My family have been tilling the land in the Waveney valley on the Norfolk Suffolk border since Tudor times; I’m the fifth generation to live in this village. During my childhood I often 'helped' in gardens when not out on the farm or doing chores and have continued to love gardening and the living world ever since. At school I took sciences and at college started studying engineering, as I had already gained both glider and aircraft licences a flying career was originally considered. But changing direction I graduated with an honours degree in financial, management and cost accountancy. (Unlikely as that sounds this has been of immense help to me -I have applied time and motion and cost benefit methods to my gardening practice with much saving of time, cash and effort.) However after tasting business life with a major London firm for a year I realised I did not wish for such so took the opportunity of doing voluntary work to travel. Afterwards I worked my way round Europe, North Africa and North America becoming fascinated by different farming and gardening methods. In particular I became enamoured with grapevines and returned to pick grapes with one French family over a dozen years. Their influence gave me much of my appreciation of good fresh food and wine, and of bees. Amongst other occupations for a crust I've been a chicken giblet washer (soon advanced to frozen chicken packer), installation engineer, demolition engineer, council care-home cleaner, dog impersonator, glass fibre laminator, houseboy and cook in house of ill repute, security lighting engineer, marine engineer, museum attendant, nude model, Parisian guide, theatrical gofer, vitreous enamel applicator, arcade mechanic etc etc.

Returning after such varied experiences I was offered a position as private gardener with sufficient free hand to experiment with many of the new ideas I’d come back with. However whenever possible I continued to travel; I've become particularly interested in warmer climate and tropical plants and have grown my own organic bananas, pineapples, coffee and guavas in my double plastic tunnel (one tunnel within another, equipped in winter with an extra blanket of bubble plastic) here in Norfolk (all with minimal inputs may I add).

I first started lecturing on organic and other gardening subjects to various groups and began writing a gardening column for a monthly periodical. And although I professed, and practised, organic methods I did not wish to be uninformed so I studied conventional methodology, passing theoretical and practical examinations in pesticide use at Otley Agricultural College –And though I refrain from using such chemicals, I also gained a strychnine licence but preferred not to use it. I moved to this plot of about three quarters of an acre thirty years ago planning to grow every fruit, vegetable and scented plant possible, for my own and family's home consumption, and have done so to the highest Organic Standards. As well as a multiplicity of crops I've also kept chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and bees.

I wished to prove that all this could be done aesthetically and single-handedly, and in my spare time. It proved an astronomical cost to my social life still I now have a beautiful Jamaican wife and we are blessed with twin children; a boy and girl (coincidentally my brother also has twins).

I wrote prolifically, started my consultancy and landscape gardening service, ran evening classes, talked on local radio and taught at the local agricultural college. Becoming Chairman of The Norfolk Group of the Soil Association & Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), and with their sponsorship, for ten years, annually gave a popular ten week course on the organic method in Norwich, I now take a back seat as their President. I give those same talks, and a host of others, to many groups and am listed in the Royal Horticultural Society's register of speakers. I’m a life member of the Soil Association, Ambassador for Garden Organic (HDRA), President of Norfolk Organic Gardeners, Champion for Millennium Greens, and also of The Woodland Trust, a Patron of NWAI Rethink Rubbish campaign, Send a cow to Africa, Dig it! CHATI, Paxton Horticultural Society and support numerous other similar worthy and charitable organisations.

I make regular appearances on national television and radio and have also broadcast in Canada and the West Indies -where I also conducted seminars for the hotel industry on organic/natural food as a competitive advantage.

Twenty years ago I joined BBC Radio 4's prestigious 'Gardener's Question Time' panel where I still concentrate on fruits, vegetables, organic methods and scented plants. At the same time I became a presenter for BBC 2 television's Gardener's World as their organic fruit and vegetable expert under Geoff Hamilton until his unfortunate demise when I stood in for him as gardening correspondent for the Daily Express. I now write for journals at home and abroad particularly Amateur Gardening, Kitchen Garden Magazine and BBC Gardeners World Magazine. As well as these currently written I also wrote articles regularly (all of which, once permission is granted, will be re-published here) for Living Earth, Organic Life, Gardens Monthly, Gardens Illustrated, and the Eastern Daily Press.

As well as BBC recordings, horticultural talks, prize givings and after dinner engagements I regularly perform my one man theatre show of hard core horticultural anecdote, comedy and home spun verse.

For my efforts I’ve received five Golden Trowel Awards for Amateur Gardening Radio Personality, I’ve earned an entry in Who’s Who and my likeness has been displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.

I've also been a successful inventor (and have more under wraps) designer & potter, a question setter for BBC television's Mastermind, a literary critic for BBC Radio 4's 'A Good Read, been the voice of Microsoft MSN Messenger advertisements and presented the prizes for the national Britain in Bloom Awards. I’ve played in a local band, sung in a choir, love to sculpt and carve, draw, paint and pastel, and have been hung in Norwich’s School Of Art. But most importantly; I cook fabulous food, make the finest juices, wines and comestibles and so live better than a king.

Bob’s blogs

I currently write articles on greenhouse and conservatory plants for Hartley Botanic- these may be found here I wrote for the BBC websites Beeb.com(1999-2001), BBCi (2002-3) and Boblog (2010-11) and another for Interactiveg

Washington Post article A growing influence by Adrian Higgins www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/16/AR2006071600982_pf.html

Genealogical aspects

If you are a Flowerdew or casually interested then I gather- Flowerdew may have originally been Fleur de Dieu, possibly the blue Flax flower known to linen weavers, or a corruption of Fleur de lys, the lily of the French Hugenots or similar. The clan appears alive and well mostly living in South Norfolk, North Suffolk and the Waveney valley from the fifteenth century and although never numerous have spread to the far reaches of the globe. Flowerdews have produced some famous offspring, including a mythical one - a character was called Flowerdew in the Goon Show. A real Flowerdew, Freddie, was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of between the wars, one of his tunes was even played on a piano in the Jeeves and Wooster series, Freddie Flowerdew also appears on a theatre front in the backdrop of a Woody Allen film. A braver than average Flowerdew, Gordon, won a VC in the first world war. More recently another Flowerdew had odd dreams, was taken to Petra by the BBC where he revealed otherwise unknowable evidence which suggested re-incarnation.

In the sixteenth century the Flowerdews were involved with, well caused, the Kett Rebellion against enclosure. Peasants were angry and desperate as all over the country their common lands were (legally in the strictest sense but wrongly) stolen and enclosed to feed flocks of sheep for the expanding wool industry. In the summer of 1549 the rebellion was sparked off by a turf war between Robert Kett and Flowerdew his neighbour, each alternately paying local drunks and malcontents to level the other’s hedges and fences. It escalated and while Flowerdew legged it to call the authorities Kett began a general mayhem which led to the peasant revolt with many thousands of the dispossessed capturing Norwich. Kett made a declaration of their rights and demanded justice but things got (further) out of hand. While they camped on Mousehold Heath, a hill overlooking the city, they continued to rob and riot for provisions. They had drunk the city dry and barbecued 20,000 of their woolly enemies before they were betrayed and set upon by an army led by the Earl of Warwick. 3,000 were slaughtered, more executed and the rest brutally disbanded. The Flowerdew motto of “better hung for the flock than the lamb” appears to have originated from that time.

Another Flowerdew was blamed for the demise of Amy Robsart / Anne Dudley, she was the (inconvenient) wife of Lord Leicester allegedly the lover of Queen Elizabeth I. Flowerdew being her steward did have access so perhaps this event was not unconnected with the closely following rise of a Flowerdew to the rank of Baron of the Exchequer. Twice Flowerdews purloined the lead from off Wymondham Abbey roof. The first time during the Reformation when it should have been sent on to the Crown, and then again during the Civil war, ostensibly taken to make into bullets. The inevitable retribution resulted in several macabre bonfires and there now being a dearth of Flowerdew bodies in their graves thereabouts. This was possibly another encouragement to our tendency to flee abroad.

Apparently various Flowerdews and descendants now live on every continent, including such remote places as Tierra del fuego. One Flowerdew, founder of the famous Hethersett tea plantation in Sri Lanka lies buried under the main runway of the Seychelles airport. Another Flowerdew was amongst the very earliest settlers of North America- search for the ‘Flowerdew Hundred’ archaeological dig near Jamestown in Virginia USA, -and there is even a Flowerdew Polka.

At the present day Flowerdews are remarkably prolific in the arts and sciences with many published authors, both fiction and non fiction, amongst but a few hundred members of a world clan.