Garden apprentice, now master
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
A DALE horitucltural legend has hung up his shears for the last time and handed over the running of his nursery garden to a former apprentice.
Malcolm Hockham has retired after running Eggleston Hall Gardens for the past 25 years, and handed over the reins to his protégé Thomas Wilson.
Mr Hockham’s interest in gardening began “growing up around potting sheds”. At age 15 he studied horticulture at West Sussex College, and worked at several private gardens before going into plant research at Rothamsted Experimental Station, where he grew “everything from rice and cotton to cannabis”.
He then joined Eggleston Hall Gardens, the foundations of which were laid by Rosemarie Gray and Gordon Long.
Mr Hockham said: “We developed this place as a traditional nursery garden. Before you had garden centres, you had nurseries, and before nurseries you had nursery gardens.”
Because of this, about 90 per cent of the plants on sale at Eggleston Hall Gardens are propagated on site.
Nine years ago, Mr Hockham’s wife Lisa retired from teaching and joined the team full time, helping to grow the business’ reputation.
At about the same time, Mr Wilson, aged just 15, had to do a week’s work experience, but did not really know what he wanted to do, other than he did not want to go to university.
He said: “I came here and I just really enjoyed it – it clicked for me.”
He was taken on as apprentice after school and was fast-tracked, completing the course in only 13 months.
He went on to complete a specialist certificate course in propagation at Kew Gardens, in London, and also spent time learning at Hilliers and Edinburgh Botanical Garden.
Despite those experiences Mr Wilson said: “All my learning has come from here and from Malcolm and Lisa – I knew nothing about plants [before that].”
Shortly before the Covid pandemic Mr Hockham and Mr Wilson started a YouTube series about the English Garden Year, which put them in good stead when lockdown was enforced.
Mr Hockham said: “We were able to deliver things and after that, [when we were able to re-open] it went crackers. It is massively popular even now.”
In his retirement Mr Hockham will continue his own YouTube channel called Plantsman’s Corner as well as developing his own garden at home.
Meanwhile, Mr Wilson is determined to uphold and continue Eggleston Hall Garden’s reputation for excellence.
Mr Hockham said: “One of the most amazing things is that at 24 he is more than capable of doing this better than I can. He is quite exceptional.”