Widower left distraught after gardening contest pulled
Widower Graham Rollinson's hope of fulfilling his dying wife’s wish to create an award-winning garden has been cruelly dashed after a popular gardening competition was suddenly axed.
A widower’s hope of fulfilling his dying wife’s wish to create an award-winning garden has been cruelly dashed after a popular gardening competition was suddenly axed.
Graham Rollinson had hoped to honour his wife Mary, who died of cancer in November, at the Kingston in Bloom gardening competition this year.
But he will not get the chance after the £5,000 event was cancelled by Kingston Council because of “unprecedented financial pressure” on council spending.
Gardeners, politicians and businesses have all expressed their disappointment at the news and some councillors have suggested that neighbourhood committees should help stump up the cash.
Now the Surrey Comet is appealing to readers, businesses and voluntary organisations to ensure this colourful annual event is not lost.
Mr Rollinson and his wife won last year’s competition and in the last few weeks of her life he promised he would try and recapture the title, dedicating the win to her memory.
But just as he was adding some finishing touches to his prize-winning plants he received an email from a council organiser informing him the council could not afford to hold the competition this year.
Mr Rollinson, who works part-time teaching sign language to children in Kingston, said: “I cannot see why they have done this. I feel very let down after all the work I have put in. I promised her that I would try and win it for her and now I can’t.
“I do not understand why it has to be cancelled because while I have spent a small fortune, it can’t cost them very much to put on the competition.”
The garden’s Italian theme, that features statues, a Lilly plant and a special inscription that reads “Mary’s Garden”, is inspired by his wife’s battle against cancer.
Unable to visit Mr Rollinson's daughters living in Florence, a place he said she loved, he set about bringing a bit of Italy to their Tolworth home.
Mr Rollinson, who gave up work to care for Mary in 2008, said: “She had to be within 25 miles of the hospital so she could not go to Italy.
“But I made sure that she had a little bit of Italy outside in the garden and also in the house. I dedicate it to her because she was a fine lady.
“I could not walk down the street with her without strangers coming up to us and saying hello, everybody knew her and loved her.”
Supporters of Kingston in Bloom said its cancellation would be a detriment to the town.
The £5,000 annual event was cancelled by Kingston Council due to “unprecedented financial pressure”, but traders argued the competition was a vital way to boost trade and attracted tourists, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.
Pat Schooling, organiser of neighbouring Richmond in Bloom, said: “I feel terribly for people in Kingston because in Bloom has become very important to residents in Richmond.
“It is not just that it brightens the place up, but it is also very good for tourism and local business.”
Sarah Taylor, co-chairwoman of Surbiton Farmers’ Market and owner of Maple Road business Shoes at Last, echoed Mrs Schooling’s sentiments adding: “It’s so important to create an environment that residents and visitors alike can enjoy and where people will want to live, work and shop.
“And they love a competition too. It’s a shame that Kingston in Bloom isn’t running this year.”
In response the Surrey Comet is appealing to our readers and any businesses or voluntary organisations to step up and ensure that this year’s event goes ahead.
We are appealing for any volunteers or experts who would be willing to organise or help judge the entrants and keep the colourful tradition going in some way.
The council is backing our appeal.
Kingston Council said it could no longer justify the expense and time it took to run Kingston in Bloom but added: “We would be keen to provide support and advice to any group or organisation interested in taking over the running of Kingston in Bloom.”
Surbiton councillor Richard Hudson said each neighbourhood committee in the borough should offer grants to fund the money needed to run such an event.
He said: “We still have money left in Surbiton and I’m sure there is money in grants at other committees.
“Together we could raise the money and put Kingston in Bloom on.
“It would be a damn sight more useful to people in the borough than the £110,000 we are spending on teaching children to cycle.”
Councillor Andrew Day said: “We have to try to help make this happen for everyone in Kingston.
“We want to make it a bright attractive place for people to visit so they will come here to shop and spend money.
“Kingston in Bloom makes a huge contribution in promoting the borough and helps boost the economy, which makes the decision to cancel it all the more baffling.”
Geoff Hyde, a member of London in Bloom, said: “It is very sad indeed that the council are depriving people in this way.
“I back the Surrey Comet appeal and will do anything I can to help.”
If you can help call 020 8744 4273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.