Brian Kidd - Portsmouth's 'Mr Gardening' - dies aged 82
BRIAN Kidd – the man who made gardening accessible, and fun, to generations in the Portsmouth area – has died at the age of 82.
For more than 40 years his no-nonsense horticultural advice, liberally shot through with his gentle humour, filled his weekly column in The News and latterly in our Weekend magazine.
He died peacefully last Saturday in an Isle of Wight care home from complications caused by cancer.
Brian had also been a panellist on BBC Radio Solent’s gardening show for many years and was a hugely popular speaker at countless meetings ranging from the Women’s Institute to horticultural societies.
Mark Waldron, the editor of The News, said: ‘Brian has been a much-loved part of The News family for so many years now and, although we were fully aware of his ill health, his passing is still such a shock. Our thoughts remain with his family at this time.
‘As our gardening expert he is irreplaceable but he was also such a great ambassador for The News. I will always cherish the moments we shared each year at our Christmas Carol Service at St Mary's in Fratton where his bible reading was always the most captivating as he held the congregation in the palm of his hand.’
It was as Portsmouth’s head of parks and gardens that he rose to prominence designing and cultivating the city’s 1,600 acres of open space, giving pleasure to millions of visitors over the decades.
Such was the esteem in which he was held that not only did he have a road named after him – Brian Kidd Way which leads to Southsea Castle – but he was also a member of an exclusive club – the freemen of Portsmouth.
In 2003, to mark his retirement from Portsmouth City Council after 49 years, he was granted the freedom of the city in a glittering Guildhall ceremony.
Although he was in illustrious company – Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery, Sir Alec Rose and the Princess of Wales among them – it would have been the ability the honour gave him to drive a flock of sheep through the city which tickled him most.
Quite simply, Brian was THE authority on all things horticultural in this part of the world. How many of us are now sprinkling our compost heaps with a solution of seven parts water to one part urine to speed decomposition?
Another of his mantras came with advice for those who garden on sites which are a tad breezy. ‘If you suffer from the wind...’ went the oft-repeated refrain, bringing his sense of fun to a column which assumed almost biblical respect for those with soil under their nails.
The passion – and it really was an all-consuming passion, coming second only to his family – started in the Second World War.
He was born in April 1938 at St Mary’s Hospital, Milton, Portsmouth, but when the war and the blitz began his family was evacuated.
In an interview with The News in 2014 to mark his 60th year as a professional gardener Brian said: ‘We went to stay with my grandparents at Shinfield near Reading and my grandfather grew nothing but vegetables in his garden and on his allotment. I was transfixed by the whole process. How, from a tiny seed, you could grow enough veg to feed a family. I’ve never lost that sense of wonder and still aim to be self-sufficient in veg to get Pam and me through the year.’
Pam, his wife of 59 years who survives him, was the ‘head gardener’ in the couple’s 181ft-long garden at their Waterlooville home before they moved to the Isle of Wight this year. The allotment, its two greenhouses and polytunnel were Brian’s domain.
After the war the family returned to Portsmouth and Brian’s father secured them a prefab in Phoenix Square, Hilsea.
Brian recalled: ‘Ours was one of 12 prefabs. They were wonderful places and I can remember it as if it were yesterday, the gas fridge. I used to sit on the floor staring at this little pilot light trying to figure out how a flame could make something cold.’
But it was his talented father Len who, carrying on the family’s green-fingered tradition, inspired the young Brian to pursue a career in gardening and landscape design.
‘My dad had two greenhouses at that prefab, one in the back garden, another in the front. Three years running he won the Best Garden in Portsmouth competition,’ Brian said.
By trade Len was a stonemason and in later years the two would find themselves working on the same site – his father renovating the stonework of Southsea Castle and his son designing the gardens leading up to the 16th century fortification, the stretch now called Brian Kidd Way.
He added: ‘Like many boys I wanted to be a pilot in the RAF, but that didn’t happen so, having left St Luke’s School at 15, I joined the city’s parks department as an apprentice at 16.
‘I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. I’ve worked with marvellous people, but best of all I hope I was able to put a smile on people’s faces when they saw the displays around the city.’
In addition to his wife Pam, Brian also leaves his son Chris, the curator at Ventnor Botanic Garden, and grandchildren Rebecca and David.
Brian Kidd: April 4, 1938-November 29, 2020
Brian Kidd never looked back since winning that coveted apprenticeship with Portsmouth City Council in the 1950s.
‘It became the defining point of my life and convinced me that horticulture was really what I wanted to do with my life, ’ he said.
‘Every six months I was sent to work somewhere else, from Southsea Common to Leigh Park; from Victoria Park to the Rock Gardens on the seafront. It was a marvellous way to learn the job.’
For obvious reasons Brian never forgot many of those with whom he worked; aptly-named people like Ernie Flowers, Bill Hedges and a Mr Hayday...
But it was his boss, the fearsome John Studley, who most influenced Brian’s career.
‘I was responsible for growing 86,000 wallflowers from seed in the council’s nursery at Creek Farm, off Peronne Road, Hilsea,’ he said. ‘One day I looked out of the shed and noticed what looked like litter everywhere. Mr Studley hated litter, so I went to pick it up and then realised it wasn’t paper but foam from the sea. There had been an exceptionally high tide which had flooded my 86,000 wallflowers.
‘All Mr Studley could say was: “Mr Kidd, how could you let this happen?’’.’