Peter Boardman | Stalham Farmers' Club | Leading speakers from the agricultural industry.

Peter Boardman

An internationally-recognised holly grower, plantsman and Norfolk garden enthusiast, Peter Boardman, has died aged 84.

His garden at How Hill Farm, Ludham, was a “gem of Broadland” and he was also known as the “King of Holly” for his work over more than half a century.

He was the first grower in Britain to win the Holly Society of America’s most prestigious award in 2005.

Chairman of the Norfolk & Norwich Horticultural Society in 1997, Mr Boardman was a great ambassador for holly and opened his three-acre garden for charity for 35 years.

In 2003, he was presented with a silver trowel by the National Gardens’ Scheme for 21 years’ continuous opening. In the late 1960s, he bought some land opposite his house to create a riverside garden and dig a new broad as a conservation project. At that time, the River Ant, had been described as one of the most heavily polluted in Broadland, mainly from the upstream sewage treatment plant at Stalham.

The water in the broad, isolated from the river, was “gin-clear” and plants, including rare azaleas and rhododendrons from a family friend of his late uncle, thrived.

To his enormous regret, his hope of building a thatched retirement home overlooking what he jokingly called “Peter’s Broad” was thwarted by planners in 1991. Today, a stone window arch overlooking the Ant and marshes stands as a reminder of his dream project.

Born in June 1932, Peter David Stuart Boardman went to Town Close and then Malvern before studying agriculture at Writtle College.

His father, Stuart, had taken on a rather run-down How Hill Farm at Michaelmas 1926 and planted fruit trees - more than 60 acres of apples, cherries and pears and blackcurrants, gooseberries and strawberries. A founder of Norfolk Fruit Growers, the pioneering marketing co-operative, he became a director in 1935, and was secretary to Stalham Farmers’ Club.

By 1938, the fruit venture including Norfolk Royal apples had become a success and his father planted four acres of holly. A captain in the Royal Norfolk Regiment, he was killed in action in Malaya in 1942.

Peter, who became a director of Norfolk Fruit Growers, had taken over the farm in 1953. Years later, he spotted a branch on a tree with exceptionally “red” fruit, which he propagated. Norfolk Royal Red apples, grown today, will be on his coffin.

In 1968, he increased the holly area to about five acres, planting more varieties. Eventually more than 100 types were grown – and about five tonnes of holly was cut for the Christmas trade, mainly sent to London.

Every December, he delivered huge bundles of colourful hollies to decorate Norwich Cathedral, said Sally Mitchell, secretary to the flower guild. “It was always a very colourful display with so many different colours of berries too and he was so generous too,” she added.

A world authority on holly, Susyn (SUSYN) Andrews, then of London’s Kew Gardens, nominated him for the Holly Society of America’s Wolf-Fenton Award. Her citation said: “How Hill is a gem lying in the middle of the Norfolk Broads.”

Mr Boardman was “a tremendous ambassador for ilex (holly)” and “a quiet gentleman, he has always been helpful and willing with his advice,” she added.

Sir Nicholas Bacon, president of the Royal Horticultural Society, said that Peter was a highly-respected plantsman, enthusiast, and that he had been a great advocate for gardens, fruit and especially holly.

President of the Friends of How Hill, he was a trustee of the neighbouring How Hill Trust, which had been established on April 1, 1984. His grandfather, Edward, had built How Hill in 1903 – later it became an educational centre as it remains today.

When his farmers’ club celebrated its 175th anniversary, Mr Boardman was delighted to welcome about 300 fellow members and guests to a glorious summer drinks party this June.

A member of the City Livery Company, the Fruiterers, he was a director of Aylsham Grain, and also a shareholder in Cox’s Boatyard, of Barton Turf. Only last Monday, he had enjoyed his visit to Aylsham Show but had been taken ill three days later and died on September 2.

He leaves a sister, Cecilia, nephews Richard and Nicholas, and a much-loved partner, Elizabeth.

A funeral service will be held at Ludham Church on Friday, September 23, 2pm, and afterwards at How Hill Farm.