|Mark Flanagan talking about one of his beloved rhododendrons, at a meeting of the RHS Woody Plant Committee, March 2014.|
Mark was thoroughly decent and likeable, a superb plantsman at the pinnacle of his profession and powers, respected by all who knew him. He started his horticultural career as an apprentice in the Manchester Parks Department, and then went on to undertake the horticultural diploma course at RBG Edinburgh, where he met his wife Lesley - and where he had already decided on his dream job: to be Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park. In due course he did just that, succeeding the legendary John Bond in 1997, but in the interim worked first at Kew and then Wakehurst Place, where he became Deputy Curator.
It was his great fortune, paradoxically, to be at Wakehurst when the Great Storm of 1987 struck. The devastation it caused at both Kew and Wakehurst Place was the impetus for a series of collecting expeditions to provide new specimens to rejuvenate the collections - and this catalysed a remarkable collecting partnership and deep friendship between Mark and his counterpart at Kew, Tony Kirkham.
|A duo immortalised on a plant label (at RBG Edinburgh): Tricyrtis formosana was collected in Taiwan in 1992. Their Taiwanese collaborator, Dr Pan, held such a high regard for Mark that he flew to England to be at the funeral.|
|The two books by 'Flanagan & Kirkham'. In addition, Mark contributed many well-written articles to the horticultural press.|
Tributes had also come from the highest places. As soon as she heard of Mark's illness the Queen appointed him a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO), an honour exclusively in her gift, and this was presented at Mark's bedside in Harefield Hospital. Horticulture was slower to respond, but rather remarkably, the Royal Horticultural Society broke with 118 years of tradition to posthumously award Mark the highest accolade in horticulture, the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH), news broken by Tony Kirkham in his eulogy. The VMH can be held by only 63 living recipients at any time and there is no doubt that as he approached the level of elder statesman it would have come to Mark: but now his name is inscribed on that list of the greats of horticulture, as it should be.
|Spring in the Valley Gardens; Mark's responsibilities in The Royal Landscape covered the Savill and Valley Gardens, and the private garden around Frogmore House. The very highest standards of horticulture were maintained in them all.|
|The wreath from Kew was made up by the unofficial wreath-maker there, Carlos Magdalena, using plants collected by Mark and Tony, and other Chinese species. The 'roses' are created from ginkgo and maple leaves. (Img. Carlos Magdalena)|
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: "Oh how beautiful"and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.