Benmore bids farewell to Ian after 49 years’ service

Senior Horticulturist Ian Potts retires this week from Benmore Botanic Garden, near Dunoon, after a career spanning almost five decades.

In 1966 when Ian joined the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Argyll site as a 15-year-old “Boy Probationer’’ his first job was to tend to an area of long grass using hooks and scythes. Manual and petrol mowers followed later. He was soon enrolled on a City and Guilds Certificate in Horticulture and studied one day a week at Woodburn House in Glasgow.

One of Ian’s most vivid memories is the clear up that he and fellow members of staff undertook after a devastating hurricane in 1968 which put the future of the Garden in jeopardy. Over 500 large trees and countless smaller ones were lost, but after three months of hard work the lower Garden was cleared and the decision was made to keep the Garden open. It took another three to four years to remove most of the remaining damage, and the local sawmill was contracted to assist with the work.

In the early 1970’s, Ian moved into staff accommodation within the Benmore estate, and in 1973, he married Alison MacKenzie. The couple’s son Nigel was born in 1974 and daughter Nicola in 1977.

During his career, Ian received a number of awards. In 1983, he and the Garden Curator, Arthur Hall represented Benmore at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show and won the only Gold Medal awarded that year. In 1995, Ian and two of his colleagues Joe McCluskey and Geoff Godbert were among the first recipients of the RBGE long service award. Earlier this year Ian received his second long service medal in recognition of his 49 years’ service. It was presented by Regius Keeper Simon Milne.

In 2001 HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay who is Patron of RBGE, visited Benmore and chatted to staff about the daily running of the Garden. At the end of the royal visit Ian helped Prince Charles plant a tree to mark the occasion. Recently Ian received a letter of thanks for his services to Benmore from the Prince after his proud daughter, Nicola, who works at the Benmore Café, wrote to the Prince about her dad’s long service.

Ian’s work at the Garden has been varied and one of the tasks he particularly enjoyed was education. He sparked the imagination of many youngsters when he dressed as a “Druid’’ for the annual Schools Week.

Ian is retiring with many lasting memories of his time at Benmore. In August 2003, he was completely taken by surprise when a visitor walked straight into the pond. The surface was covered in weed and the visitor, whose glasses had steamed up, thought it was a flat surface of grass so continued to walk out onto it. Luckily Ian was on hand to help her out.

Recent notable events and developments at the Garden that Ian was involved with are the 150th anniversary celebration of the Redwood Avenue in 2013 which was marked with Glowing Giants, an evening light show attended by 1,500 people over three days. Local craftsman, Guy Elder was commissioned to create an oak pavilion overlooking the Bhutanese Glade and a Chilean Viewpoint refuge. They were the last major works Ian was involved with along with the installation of the restored Golden Gates back in their original position at the newly landscaped Glen Masson end of the Garden. Throughout these projects and in many more ventures and adventures, Ian was often in the driving seat and around Benmore will be remembered for his love of machinery, from tractors to the mini digger and beyond.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)