Gardening guru Eddie began planting and growing at 12
WAXING lyrical over Eddie Parker's garden comes as naturally as trimming the hedge or smelling the roses.
Indeed, if a picture can paint a thousand words, filling this page with all-star adjectives would be simplicity itself.
At 86, Eddie shows no sign of slowing down, whether he's busy in his modestly-sized patch at Poltimore Lawn, Barnstaple, or on his allotment a short walk away.
Nor are there any signs of quality loss amid advancing years, if awards are any guide. Not only was Eddie judged to cultivate the best plot at Bryant Fields allotments in 2010, 2011 and again this year, but he's still raking in a barrow-load of cups and class cards at local shows.
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Best in show at Goodleigh 2013 and, in recent years, major awards at Tawstock, Landkey, Molland and Filleigh, let it be known that Eddie is still a force to be respected among the veg men.
Yet, however productive and perfect his allotment, his 30ft by 20ft back garden is simply a joy to behold, reflecting horticultural skills honed from a love of the soil stretching back more than 70 years.
"I started gardening at 12 years old," he says proudly. "And I learned all about it through making mistakes on the way."
So it is no surprise that his numerous fibrous and tuberous begonias that light up a side bed and tumble from fence and walls like fiery cascades are products of this long-established mastery.
Eddie is the son of a farm labourer who never claimed to be a gardening guru. "He grew all our veg and we were self-sufficient," recalls Eddie. "It was the only way in those days."
Fiercely proud of his working class roots, he says: "I am not a rich man, but what I have got I worked hard for."
Most of his working life mirrored that of his dad as an agricultural worker, followed by 17 years in the abattoir at North Devon Meat.
On retirement at 65, Eddie sunk all his energies into his allotment and a garden he has worked for lovingly for almost half a century.
Fate dealt a timely hand of fortune when the plot next to his at Bryant Fields became vacant. His daughter and son-in-law, Rosemary and Barry Humphries, took it over and, says Rosemary, "it's very handy for getting tips passed on by Dad."
Many fellow plot-holders still indulge in Q & A sessions with Eddie on site and it's a rare moment when a question fails to deliver an accurate answer.
During summertime Eddie is often ready for allotment action as early as 6am. He enjoys the cool of early morning and usually puts in three or four hours' work among his formidable collection of fruit and veg – from potatoes to peas and beetroot to brussels sprouts. Another benefit of arriving with the lark is getting maximum water pressure from his hosepipe ahead of "rush hour" when everyone wants to switch on the taps and, as a result, slow the flow.
At home in the greenhouse, he raises his fibrous begonias from seed and the tuberous species with those mighty and vivid blooms from, well, the tubers themselves.
These he starts off in spring facing upsidedown into the compost so the plants' shoots – looking white and sickly – will be prompted into growth. After two or three weeks, Eddie turns the tubers over knowing that the roots won't be far behind.
This method ensures strong, healthy tubers leading to strong and vigorous begonias.
Eddie, champion allotment holder, dedicated gardener, father-of-four, grandad to eight and great-grandad to 12, is a consummate rosy-cheeked advertisement for healthy living among the blooms and the beans.
With typical dry wit, he said: "The cemetery is just down the road and over the wall. I've always said I'd prefer to be this side than on the other for now. But if I die on the allotment with my boots on I would die happy."
A little premature, perhaps. Both Eddie's father and grandfather enjoyed a lifespan of 92 years. No worries yet, then, for one of North Devon's youngest 86-year-olds.