"Gardening on a grand scale." That's how The University of Nottingham's Grounds Manager, Ian Cooke, describes his award-winning career on campus, which comes to an end this summer. He's retiring on a big high having attained one of the most prestigious horticultural awards in the world - an Associateship of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society.
This rare accolade is a lifetime achievement award for contributions to horticulture. Only 100 people can hold the honour at any one time. The award coincides with the announcement that Ian is retiring from the University at the end of July 2008 after 14 years transforming the campus landscapes.
When he started at the University Ian's vision was to break away from the 'supermarket car park' landscaping of standard urban green spaces. He wanted to create new areas of interest and impact, full of colour. Exotic plants are his passion and over the years he's greatly increased the number of species on the four UK campuses.
His ambition here was to create 'a living library' of plant specimens on the 500 acres of University landscape. Ian has led a team of 42 staff; including two deputies, gardeners, arborists, nurserymen and mechanics, whom he credits with bringing his vision of vibrant and breathtaking gardens to life.
Under his leadership the Nottingham campuses have won numerous awards. They include five Civic Trust Green Flags, the Britain in Bloom Public Park Award 2005, Nottingham in Bloom and East Midlands in Bloom awards for horticultural excellence, Civic Trust and British Association of Landscape Industry awards for the Millennium Garden on University Park and 16 other prizes since 1994. Mr Cooke also held the National Collection of the colourful tropical plant, the exotic Canna, displayed at the University from 1994-2004.
He describes the University Park gardens as 'classic English landscape' with the Victorian walled garden near Highfields House one of his favourite spots. His redesign of the Kings Meadow Campus grounds has created a stunning oasis for staff who work there. Ian's also been responsible for landscaping the University's new Jubilee campus, which features more natural, environmentally sensitive native plantings with lakes and wildlife. His latest project is the landscaping around the new 60 metre high Aspire sculpture on the Jubilee site.
Ian was nominated by the Royal Horticultural Society for its highest award, the Associateship of Honour. The RHS said he's been awarded his medal for his continuous commitment to ornamental horticulture, landscape design and grounds management.
Ian said: "I am delighted and astonished that anyone beyond the University had recognised my achievements."
On his retirement from the University, he said: "I am looking forward to retirement but I shall miss 'my big garden' here at University Park. It has given me much pleasure seeing it grow over the years and knowing that so many others enjoy it too."
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Sir Colin Campbell, has been a huge admirer of Ian Cooke's work over the years. He said: "Ian has been an invaluable member of the University's grounds team. The beauty of each of our campuses is very important to the University, and much of what has been achieved is due to Ian's vision.
"He has exceptional gifts, and I am delighted that the RHS has recognised it with such a prestigious award. He will be an impossibly hard act to follow, and we will miss him enormously."
Ian, who turned 59 on Midsummer's Day, is planning a new life wintering in Palm Springs, California, researching the desert landscape and writing gardening books to add to his catalogue of five successful publications to date. He plans to return to the UK in the summers to work in garden design and consultancy. Ian will receive his RHS Associateship of Honour at the Society's Hampton Court Palace Flower Show Gala Dinner on Monday 7 July 2008.
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Notes to Editors: Photographs of Ian Cooke in his favourite university garden are available from the Communications Office at The University of Nottingham on 0115 951 5793.
Photographs of the RHS award ceremony will be available from email@example.com, 0845 260 5000.
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.
Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation - School of Pharmacy).
Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for four years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.