The sweet scent of success

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A HARTLEPOOL horticulturalist was sowing the seeds of success all over the world from a small allotment in September 1978. ANDREW LEVETT discovers the story behind a dazzling dahlia still a stalwart of cuttings catalogues 35 years later.

BABIES are born every day but Hartlepool Show falls but once a year.

This was the view of Mail reporter, Jean Jacques, explaining why a heavily-pregnant Myra Docherty found herself clutching a huge vase of dahlias on the bumpy journey to the show field the same day she was later admitted to Hartlepool’s Cameron Hospital for the birth of daughter Jill.

For husband Frank it was a double celebration, as he won a trophy at the show, which a pal had to collect while he went to the hospital to collect his wife and new daughter.

Fast-forward 18 years, to 1978, and one of the 2,000 dahlia seedlings grown by Frank at his Chester Road allotment is making all the hard work worthwhile.

The huge peachy-pink bloom is chosen as cover star by Hall of Heddon, a leading seed company, and named Jill Doc by Frank in honour of his pretty 18-year-old daughter.

Frank admitted that 99 out of 100 seedlings fail but this triumph after almost 20 years of trying made him an ideal candidate for the Mail’s Search for Success series in September 1978.

He told the Mail he had only gone to the allotment almost 20 years earlier, near his home in Jesmond Gardens, to buy plants but bought the whole plot instead.

So began an obsession that culminated with the success of Jill Doc.

Not that Frank always won – he recalled that his 13-year-old son Robin entered a bunch of his own dahlias in Hart Show and took the top prize, with dad relegated to fourth.

Jill and Myra preferred to arrange the flowers rather than grow them but, wrote Jean, “they are proud of the man who makes gardening a year-long hobby.”

Frank, a joiner by trade and aged 44 in 1978, also grew onions, lettuces and beetroots on his allotment and had recently become interested in lapidiary as a hobby after doing a course at Hartlepool College of Art.

But he admitted dahlias were his greatest passion and aimed to continue the search for perfect blooms to share with the world.

Has this story made memories germinate in the garden of your mind? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.