ABRIGHT LIGHT in horticulture has been extinguished by the death of veteran man of the soil Arthur Hockin.
Few can surely match his achievement of 75 years with one hobby – gardening. And there can’t be many who can equal the utter beauty of the garden he and his wife Sylvia lovingly created and cared for at Littleham, North Devon, for nearly 50 years.
Now, sadly, Arthur, who was 91, has left us, almost exactly six months after his wife of more than 60 years passed away aged 86.
I last visited Arthur and Sylvia for a North Devon Journal feature back in 2014. It was published on the very day the couple toasted their diamond wedding and the year Arthur notched up his personal 75th anniversary of gardening exploits.
I am also privileged to say that not only was their garden one of the most beautiful I had visited in 50 years of horticultural wordage but, as a Mr and Mrs, the Hockins were among the most amiable and most interesting I can recall in a long career.
A one-time farm hand, Arthur and Sylvia built their dream bungalow from scratch and honing their gorgeous south-facing garden from a ploughed field.
Whatever Arthur planted invariably thrived and survived. Sometimes he hatched near-miracles.
One tale concerned five corms of Begonia sutherlandii, which somehow lay forgotten in his greenhouse for an entire decade, kept alive only by water which, fortuitously, dripped onto them from the staging.
Arthur later picked up the tiny dried-up corms and popped them around the edge of a large wooden planter full of his favourite compost.
The plants quickly sprang to life and swelled into a monster – a circumference of 10ft, a height of 2ft 6in and bearing hundreds of tiny orange four-petalled blooms.
This is but one of several remarkable stories that emanated from Maytime at Littleham – a garden so lavished in colour, contrast and care that it was impossible to walk past their garden gate without a Wow or an Oooh.
Arthur’s other claim to fame was growing a chance lupin seedling in pure white which turned out to be much superior to all the others. That was in 1989 and, by 1996, Polar Princess had become the star of the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as ending up in Prince Charles’s garden at Highgrove.
One of the “celebs” to swoon over Polar Princess at the Gardeners’ World Show at the NEC was TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh. Arthur gave Alan a plant when they met the following year at Rosemoor – and the Hockins were understandably thrilled when they received a personal Thank You letter from Mr T, as he is popularly known.
When I left Arthur and Sylvia on that sunny morning at Maytime in 2014, the couple were about to put their beloved bungalow up for sale. They were getting on in years and Arthur told me wryly: “It will be quite a wrench to leave. But more and more I find I go outside because I have to, not because I want to.”
I shall miss Sylvia and Arthur.
✴ Magical Maytime: Top – Arthur and Sylvia with their monster begonia; centre – the front of their bungalow studded with Surfinia petunias.