Gong for greenfingered Robin

Bob Mitchell, known locally as Robin, was made an MBE for his services to horticulture.
Bob Mitchell, known locally as Robin, was made an MBE for his services to horticulture.

A curator from Selkirk credited with leading the first European horticultural expedition to China has been made an MBE.

Bob Mitchell, known locally as Robin, was honoured in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list after dedicating 55 years of his life to horticulture and horticultural education.

The current emeritus curator at St Andrews Botanic Garden grew up in Selkirk before moving up to Edinburgh back in 1954 where he trained at the East of Scotland College of Agriculture.

Following that, the grandfather of two went on to train further at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1959, after a brief time carrying out national service in the Royal Air Force.

It was in the capital city that he was in charge of the botanic garden’s trees and shrubs, notably the rhododenrons.

However, it was also there that he an four other Brits managed to establish a connection between Edinburgh’s botanic garden and the Kunming Institute of Botany in China’s Yunnan province.

That was the result of a joint expedition in 1981 with 12 members from the Chinese institute to the Cangshan mountain range, with the aim to monitor and collect plant species from the mountains.

That work resulted in the Chinese government making the site a nature reserve two years later.

In 1967, the 81-year-old was appointed assistant curator of St Andrews Botanic Garden before becoming honorary curator in 1987. There, he developed the garden for teaching and research as well as to act as an amenity for the townspeople.

In addition, Bob is credited with establishing the St Andrews Botanic Garden Junior Horticultural Association, which now has around 25 members.

In 1981, he also founded the Friends of St Andrews Botanic Garden, which currently has a 900-strong membership.

Its education programme, which caters for all ages, has seen more than 2,000 primary schoolchildren attend classes last year and around the same number take part in self-guided tours.

Now he and his wife Felicity live in Elie, Fife, where he has held the role of emeritus curator of the 18-acre St Andrews Botanic Garden since last year.

Bob’s brother, David, remained in Selkirk, now living in Scotts Place.

His son has followed in his footsteps, working at Edinburgh Botanic Garden, in charge of the Alpine section.

His daughter, a physiotherapist, moved further afield to Guilford, where she has two children.

He told The Wee Paper: “My grandfather encouraged me from the age of three and he was a very keen amateur grower.

“He took part in as many shows as he could, including those in Edinburgh and South Port Flower Show, gaining prizes, and I really just took it from there.”

He added: “Naturally, I am delighted with the award and it does feel good to be recognised for my life’s work.

“But I could not have achieved this without the support, encouragement and inspiration from my first wife Maureen, and my present wife Felicity, not to mention my staff and colleagues in St Andrews and many friends covering a period of 55 years. These have been very happy and fulfilling years.”

In 2012, Bob was awarded a long service medal from the Royal Horticulural Society.