The Groundsman

September 2014

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IOG 80TH ANNIVERSARY 19 the Groundsman September 2014 Visit for more information and digital editions 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 recalls, "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 believes to this day 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 my studies – I was away for nearly six years with the Royal Navy – and upon demob in 1946 I returned to Wisley to complete the Diploma Course and gain the Advanced Agricultural Certificate." Post-war reconstruction 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. Some of the figures he quotes from those days are mind-boggling: • 250,000 bedding plants each season • 1,500-acres of lawn – meadowland turf personally selected by Bob • Rose bushes being ordered in batches of 20,000 at a time • 50,000 bulbs each year • 300 miles of hedges cut twice a year. Among 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 (when, he admits, he forgot to bow when he was introduced to the Queen Mother). International profile 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 gardening magazines. Indeed, at one time, he was earning more from his photographic reproduction fees than he was from his full- time employment. He retired from the Greater London Council in 1980 after more than 33 years' service but, he says, "at 65 I was definitely not ready to hang up my fork and spade" and he 'retreated' to a cottage in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, throwing himself into transforming the garden there while also taking up many worldwide 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. During one visit to Melbourne Cricket Ground, when the club was experiencing problems with the wicket, Bob advised that the uneven surface was brought about by the annual topdressing. He suggested the surface be skimmed off, back to the original level. Now residing in a care home in Somerset, Bob reflects 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 adds: "Old gardeners never die, they simply bed down and in these times of ecological unrest, be kind to the land and it will be kind to you. Records may be lost, but you cannot erase memories." Extracts courtesy Robert Corbin and Jen Green, 'Travels of a Bothy Boy'. In his foreword to Travels of a Bothy Boy (published 2007), Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London wrote: Robert Corbin's history lies in the trees, rose gardens, flower beds and the lawns not only in the Royal Parks but also in early post-war landscaped housing estates still standing in the capital today…Travels of a Bothy Boy makes fascinating reading…for everyone who cares about the natural environment. It is also an acknowledgement of his [Robert Corbin's] major contribution to the environmental wellbeing of London life.' Copies of the book are available from Bob's daughter, Anita – email: - or call 07802 613911 cost £12.50 plus post and packing. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the gardener's charities that Bob served so well throughout his career. l 1938 - Bob with his Blue Star motorcycle that he raced at Brands Hatch Bob Corbin, 1946, at Wisley thinning grapes Scarifying - one of the many tasks that Bob has mastered throughout his career

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