Flower power

Ian Cooke, grounds manager at the University of Nottingham, has won an accolade from the RHS for his gardens

July 17, 2008

Ian Cooke describes his "living library" with passion. As the grounds manager of the University of Nottingham for the past 14 years, he has introduced a huge range of plants to the grounds - "plants from all over the world. Nottingham is an international university and it is very important for people to see that," he said. "The grounds are extremely important as they are the first thing that visitors or anyone coming to the university will see."

It is this enthusiasm and creativity that has earned Mr Cooke his most recent accolade - the Associateship of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society, which came just as he confirmed his retirement at the end of this month.

The letter telling him of the award came as a welcome surprise, and one that he is astonished to have received owing to the recognition it represents from those "beyond the university".

"Only 100 people can hold the award at any one time, so you just have to wait your turn in the queue I suppose," he joked.

During his time at Nottingham, Mr Cooke has overseen the transformation that has come to characterise the grounds - a grand-scale makeover whose success he credits to his team. "I may be the ideas person, but my wonderful team do the hard work," he said.

He has also played an active role in seeking to break down the barriers between the university and the local community through his landscaping. He invited the public to visit the grounds, which previously, he said, "they had no idea they were allowed to do". He said the move has had a positive impact on the local community and on the atmosphere of the university.

Along the way to the RHS award, Mr Cooke and his team have won a series of Civic Trust Green Flags, the Britain in Bloom Public Park Award 2005 and the Nottingham in Bloom and East Midlands in Bloom awards for horticultural excellence.

The RHS Associateship - presented at the society's Hampton Court Palace Flower Show gala dinner last week - therefore seems timely.

Mr Cooke will remain in the UK for at least the rest of month until he officially retires, but he is anticipating a new life split between summers in the UK and winters spent in the US.

He insisted that he would still be busy in his continued work as a landscape designer and consultant while on UK turf, but said he is looking forward to relaxing in California and spending time writing books to add to his current collection of publications.

lucy.wheeler@tsleducation.com.

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