For those of you old enough to remember him, David Bellamy OBE is an extraordinary botanist, prolific author, diver, conservationist, environmental campaigner and TV personality. He was also the voice behind the Ribena advert in the early 80’s and the subject of Lenny Henry’s famous parody which spawned the catchphrase “grapple me grapenuts” on Tiswas. You might therefore understand how honoured I was to meet the great man in person last week. How it happened is still a bit of a mystery. It all started a year ago when I floated the idea of a Tool Amnesty at our Horticultural Society to raise our profile, gain valuable publicity and do something for a worthy cause. Little did I know what I was getting myself into!
Maybe I didn’t explain it very well or maybe it was a bit too radical but our Committee just didn’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for the idea that I had. Needless to say, the outcome was that it became my project! To cut a very long story short, nine months later in August, eight gardening clubs and two garden centres held the amnesty for a month and collected a total of 569 old, broken and unwanted garden hand tools from people who cleared out their sheds, garages and greenhouses for us. The response from the public was overwhelming and I soon had to clear out my garage to cope with their generosity.
I had approached The Conservation Foundation for help, a charity co-founded by David Bellamy in 1982 to promote conservation and environmental awareness. A wonderful public relations consultant, Lindsay Swan, turned out to be the perfect partner, someone who appreciated my efforts, encouraged and helped me to make the amnesty a success. In return, after much grovelling and harassing, she agreed to try to get David Bellamy to come to Cheltenham to receive the tools on their behalf. No mean feat as he is now 81 and living in Durham, 300 miles away. We were initially talking about 350 – 400 tools as being a great haul but 569 clinched it!
And so it was that early on a warm and sunny Monday morning in November, off they went in the back of a van to the local garden centre in Cheltenham to be sorted into piles, counted and inspected. During the collection, I noticed tools being donated that I had never seen before; very old, well made tools with beautiful ash handles, individually numbered spades, forks with three tines instead of four, heart shaped hoes, turf lifters, moss rakes, home-made row markers, scythes, sickles, billhooks and clay spades to name a few. I invited a local retired head gardener, Colin Brookes from the Miserden Estate, to see them as he is also a specialist collector of historic tools. He quickly picked out the most unusual ones for the press release and kindly offered to put a value on them if the Foundation wished to sell them at Malvern or Harrogate next year.
We gave Mr & Mrs Bellamy a warm welcome and a cup of tea after their long journey and took them on a tour of the tools in one of the large greenhouses we had borrowed for the day. It was then I realised that he is not your usual TV celebrity. He was genuinely impressed and enthusiastic about what we had achieved. He was charming and gracious and rather humble. I liked him a lot and was glad we had chosen to help his charity.
The inevitable press photos followed, staged with tools held in alarmingly dangerous poses by the assembled gardeners and Chris Evans who owns the nursery and also happens to be our Vice-President. The local papers lapped up the story and we got great coverage of the event and the Society which, as I recall, was the point of the exercise in the first place. Funny how these things often take on a life of their own!