Bob is potty about making resort bloom
When Bob Callison's father taught him how to plant vegetables as a child, little did he know he was sparking a passion that would one day help to transform Cleethorpes. Laura Stuart-Cook finds out why he is dedicated to making the resort bloom ...
TO SAY Cleethorpes In Bloom chairman Bob Callison would rather be outdoors surrounded by plants than indoors watching TV is something of an understatement.
As well as tending his own award-winning front garden, Bob is part of the committee dedicated to perfecting the breathtaking floral displays which flourish in Cleethorpes each year.
Since it was founded in 1998, the annual Cleethorpes In Bloom effort has attracted dozens of accolades, including the prestigious Britain In Bloom Champion of Champions title. And as one of the founder members, Bob knows more than most people about potting, preening and pruning.
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It is all a far cry from the small vegetable patch which Bob tended as a boy living on Grimsby's Nunsthorpe estate.
He recalls: "My father was a very keen gardener and he taught both me and my younger brother how to grow vegetables.
"I was completely enthralled, but my brother wasn't quite as impressed – we did have some carrot growing competitions before he gave up though!"
When former publican Bob and wife Pamela took over the Adelaide guesthouse, in Isaac's Hill, Cleethorpes, 25 years ago, he set about transforming the small patch of land that accompanied the property into a spellbinding garden.
Bob, who is a builder by trade, explained: "When we bought the place there was a very poor excuse for a garden. I removed a rose garden which was dying-off and set about making the space the best that it could be.
"There might not have been much room, but I soon introduced two lawns, which I am fanatical about maintaining, and a series of beds, hanging baskets and planters to add colour.
"During the spring months there are now up to 600 bulbs, including 300 tulips and daffodils, which create a stunning carpet of colour. I think the fact it is so compact adds to the impact because there is so much going on."
It was while he was president of the Guesthouse Association, back in 1998, that a council officer asked Bob if he could present a talk to members about the In Bloom competitions.
While many of the guesthouse owners were disinterested, Bob was captivated and joined forces with fellow Chamber of Trade member Jeff Blanchard, and North East Lincolnshire Council officers Mike Sleight and Alan Fletcher to launch Cleethorpes In Bloom.
He said: "We had absolutely no money but it didn't stop us from having grand plans.
"We started out by smartening up the Town Hall by introducing black and gold window boxes and it took off from there.
"We soon gained support from the Grimsby Telegraph and in 2000 we entered the Yorkshire In Bloom contest and received a highly-commended award. The following year we received the highest mark in our category but we weren't put forward for the Britain In Bloom contest so we applied to switch areas and joined East Midlands In Bloom instead of Yorkshire. We were the first coastal resort to enter East Midlands so they put us straight through to Britain In Bloom.
"Since then we've won more gold medals than I can remember and had the ultimate honour of winning the Champion of Champions title.
"As the chairman it's only right that I have a nice garden myself, so I always try and set an example by making mine the best it can be."
Bob plants his own garden so that it blooms throughout the year, with pansies, violas, shrubs, highly-scented stocks, award-winning show roses and geraniums currently ruling the roost.
"I like to make sure there is plenty of colour throughout the year, so I'm always busy planting," he explained.
"I love carpet bedding, where plants are placed close together, as it reduces the need for weeding and gives more of a wow factor."
And with Cleethorpes inspiring neighbouring towns such as Grimsby, Immingham, Mablethorpe, Louth and Skegness to enter East Midlands In Bloom, Bob is certain to be stopped by people seeking his advice when he is out gardening.
"Because it's our front garden, I'm constantly getting stopped when I'm out there by people asking for help with their gardens," he added. "Luckily, I never get fed up of it.
"I remember somebody telling me when we first launched Cleethorpes In Bloom that I should only do it while I enjoy it, and I honestly still do.
"It's really expanded beyond my wildest dreams to the extent where the only thing I could wish for is more sponsorship.
"We rely on donations and need about £20,000 each year to make the resort look its best, which can be difficult.
"I've lost track of how much of my own money I've spent over the years, but every penny has been worth it. I suppose you could say Cleethorpes is an extension of my garden – so perhaps it isn't so small after all!"
To find out more about Cleethorpes In Bloom, visit www.cleethorpesinbloom.co.uk