Inside the incredible life of Sun gardening guru Peter Seabrook, from royal fans to Barbara Windsor’s planter maintenance

PETER SEABROOK, The Sun’s legendary gardening expert, has never forgotten the moment he discovered the pure pleasure of growing a plant.

When he was just six years old, he dug up a handful of seeds from his grandfather’s war lot and watched them grow into beautiful, multicolored sweet peas.

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The Sun’s legendary gardening expert Peter Seabrook with tulips in Hyde Hall
Peter in 2010 with Queen and Kate Kabengle, six

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Peter in 2010 with Queen and Kate Kabengle, six
Peter Seabrook in 1976 when he replaced Percy Thrower on Gardeners' World

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Peter Seabrook in 1976 when he replaced Percy Thrower on Gardeners’ World

And 80 years later, through his Saturday column in The Sun – which he began writing in the year of the Silver Jubilee, 1977 – he still shared that passion for plants and vegetables.

Thanks to Peter, generations of people, including more than three million schoolchildren, have come to love gardens and gardening.

When he started writing for Britain’s biggest daily, Peter was already a global media star, with gardening shows on the BBC and US television.

In 45 years he has written more than 2,300 columns for The Sun and has never missed a single week.

When he died of a heart attack on Friday, aged 86, he had planned to build The Sun’s biggest-ever display at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee .

Her Majesty, to whom he gave a bouquet every year at Chelsea, was one of his biggest fans, along with Beatle George Harrison and acting legend Barbara Windsor – whose garden he tended.

Marquee full of flowers

And yesterday, tributes poured in from gardening greats to what they called ‘Britain’s favorite gardener’.

Peter John Seabrook, the son of a tool sharpener in a ball bearing factory, was brought up on his grandfather’s farm in Galleywood, near Chelmsford, Essex.

As a child, he discovered that there was money to be made by growing his beloved sweet peas and selling them to the local florist.

At the age of 15 and still at school, he could afford to pay £60 – a fortune in 1951 – to fly from Southend Airport to Holland to visit the biggest flower market in the world, Aalsmeer, near Amsterdam. He was still making the trip at 86 to discover new varieties of plants to tell his readers.

In 1952 he left school in Chelmsford for his very first visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

Peter said: “When I walked into the marquee full of flowers it just blew my mind. I still remember it like it was yesterday. »

He left school with few qualifications, but that didn’t stop him from landing his first full-time job as a gardener, working for a 200-year-old local company that owned 40 pet and garden stores.

Peter attributed his incredible build to those early years when he was digging from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. six days a week – and cycling ten miles a day to and from work.

He quit to take a two-year degree at the Essex Institute of Agriculture, where he also deepened his encyclopedic knowledge of plants – and also met his wife Margaret, who was on the same course.

While there, Peter bought his first manual lawn mower, a Ransomes Ajax with a 12-inch cylinder and weighing half a hundredweight.

As a young man he had to do national service and joined the Royal Army Service Corps

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As a young man he had to do national service and joined the Royal Army Service Corps
Peter's wife Margaret died of Alzheimer's disease in 2020

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Peter’s wife Margaret died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2020
Peter with Barbara Windsor and her husband Scott in Chelsea

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Peter with Barbara Windsor and her husband Scott in Chelsea

Remarkably, almost 80 years later, he was still using that same mower to keep the two 40ft lawns at his home in Chelmsford immaculate.

Peter was so picky about keeping his lawn looking good that he mowed each 12-inch strip three times to make sure the cut was perfect.

As a young man, he had to do national service and joined the Royal Army Service Corps, which taught him two skills that would prove useful.

Peter said: “They taught me to type and paid me to take floristry lessons.
“Little did I know that decades later I would be using the skills of these florists to make bouquets of the flowers I had grown in my garden to present to the Queen at the Chelsea Flower Show.”

National service

After national service he returned to horticulture, just as the new British garden centers were beginning to flourish.

Peter had hoped to run his own nursery, but his planning application to turn a 12-acre site into a garden center was turned down.

Yet fate had other plans for him. He often spotted mistakes in a weekly trade magazine and wrote to the editor saying he could do a better job – and got hired.

He used the same ploy to get his first radio break, which in turn led to television. Peter appeared on a Saturday afternoon gardening show, Dig This!.

But when it was suddenly deleted, Peter found himself with 60,000 copies of a booklet he had paid for to accompany a TV show that no longer existed.

Luckily, he was soon hired as a regular gardening expert on the 1970s BBC lunchtime show Pebble Mill At One – and Peter cleverly called his weekly slot Dig This! which helped him get rid of unsold booklets.

Peter’s biggest TV break came when legendary Gardeners’ World presenter Percy Thrower was sacked for promoting commercial products.

Peter said: “Percy was a gardening god. He had been presenting the program for 25 years and they replaced him with one person – me. It was as if Gary Lineker had been taken out of the match of the day.

Peter soon had a weekly audience totaling eight million, and in 1977, when The Sun was looking for a new gardening editor, he was the ideal candidate.

And his first Sun column was titled “Dig This!” Peter said: “At the time I joined The Sun I had quite a fan base on TV and radio.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked questions, even on a beach vacation. It was terrible for my family, but it was my job.

At the Sun, he once got 50,000 entries for a contest to win a mower – far more than for a Sun contest to win a Jag.

Peter had a mischievous sense of humor and once replied to a reader who asked him if Viagra could help plants wither: “There have been reports that it might help, but the cost would be too high for general use.”

He also liked to recount how he ended up in Barbara Windsor’s bedroom after she had whistled at him in the street – only to be asked to prune the wild geraniums in her window box.

As well as having fun, Peter took his job seriously and was the only person in Britain to hold all three major awards for service to horticulture – the Victoria Medal of Honour, the Associate of RHS Honor and Harlow Carr Medal. He was also awarded the MBE for services to horticulture in 2005.

Peter was awarded the MBE for services to horticulture in 2005

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Peter was awarded the MBE for services to horticulture in 2005
Peter with his trusty Ajax mower

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Peter with his trusty Ajax mower

Peter’s friend and colleague of 45 years, royal sun photographer Arthur Edwards, said: “Peter was in his element at the Chelsea Flower Show. He was so proud of his displays and they became a favorite with the royal family. The queen absolutely adored him and always had a big smile whenever she saw him.

In Chelsea, Peter has created our stunning, award-winning Sunflower Street garden displays.

In 2005, a pair of nesting blackbirds moved into the exhibit, and just as the queen arrived, the birds started pounding her, blowing a gaping hole in the top of the exhibit – causing amused His Majesty.

In 2020 Peter designed a stunning 10ft tall floral pyramid with 10,000 plants for Chelsea.

When Covid forced the cancellation of the show, he rebuilt it in the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Hyde Hall in Essex, where he sought solace following the death of his wife Margaret from chronic illness. Alzheimer’s the same year.

Since then, Peter has transformed the grounds of Hyde Hall into The Sun’s Floral Fantasia garden, and just before his death he and his assistant Molli Christman planted thousands of bulbs for this summer’s colorful display.

As well as encouraging people to grow plants and vegetables, Peter was a passionate campaigner who hated green bins instead of garden waste going to compost. In his latest column, which you can read on Saturday, he campaigns against plans to ban peat in gardening.

“Loved by all”

The Sun’s editor, Victoria Newton, said: ‘Just before his death, Peter was helping children at a school in Essex grow young oak saplings from acorns to plant for the Queen’s Jubilee Canopy.

“He was adored by everyone from royals and celebrities to ordinary people who wanted his help growing plants, even if they had the smallest plot or no garden at all. For them, Pierre was their gardener. He will be sorely missed at The Sun’s office, where he brightened our days by bringing gifts of flowers or apples to taste and taste.

“Peter was devoted to Margaret, his wife of 60 years who died during lockdown in 2020 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia for nine years.

“He created a verbena plant in his memory and raised £7,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society. Our hearts go out to his daughter Alison, son Roger and grandchildren Tom and Rachel.

His friend Arthur Edwards said: “Peter was a wonderful colleague. A man with the greenest fingers, he was quite a decent, witty and warm person. He will be greatly missed.

Sun’s Gardening editor Peter Seabrook shows how to get the kids planted mid-term

Terri S. Tomasini