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Tom Risely

1934 - 2010
Master of Horticulture (RES) Dip IPRA Cert Hort Kew FIHort
Tom Risely, President 2006-2007.

Tom Risely, President 2006 - 2007, was born in Leicester and educated at Wyggeston School in that City. Academically successful, he was encouraged to obtain a place at a Cambridge College to read economics. However, horticulture was in his blood and he was determined to study it at Nottingham University (the Sutton Bonnington campus).

Advised to obtain practical experience, he joined the local parks department where the Superintendent was an enthusiastic Kewite, Edwin Cherry, President of the Kew Guild 1975-76. Over a period of time Edwin advised Tom that he would have a more interesting and satisfying career if he studied at Kew rather than Nottingham. This was agreed and in order to fill the time until reaching the minimum age entry level for Kew, Tom became an indentured apprentice, studying botany and zoology during the evenings at the local Polytechnic, and for RIIS exams. For the last year of his apprenticeship he accepted a place, funded by Leicester City Council, at the Grotto (IPRA training college) where he obtained the College Diploma. He began the Kew Certificate Cours on 1st October 1956 (the same day as Sir George Taylor officially began his Directorship).

It was the practice in the days of the Certificate Course for new students to be welcomed by those already at Kew. Tom,s welcoming student was Ian Beyer, who, after words of welcome and quizzing him on hobbies and interests, instructed him to be present at a students' meeting in the Iron Room at 6pm that evening. During that meeting Tom was elected Honorary Secretary of the Gardens Cricket Club (without previously being asked whether he wished to occupy the position).

Times at Kew were very happy. Tom worked in the tropical department (T range), decorative department (pits), tropical department again (pits), and finally the arboretum (nursery), under the guidance of assistant curators, Lew Stenning, Stan Rawlings and George Brown. At the time, Jack Souster was heavily involved in student training and his chief influence was to train students to think academically for themselves.

During this time at Kew, Tom received the Dummer Memorial Prize for a collection of British flora and obtained two external qualifications, the National Diploma in Horticulture and the Diploma in Parks and Recreation Administration. He was very active in Kew affairs as a reference to the Guild Journal Events of 1958, shows. He was a student representative on the Guild Committee and contributed articles as Honorary Secretary for these sections; the Gardens Cricket Club, the Kew Botany Club and the Kew Gardens Cricket Club tour of Holland (the first Guild overseas tour?)

Upon leaving Kew, Tom worked first for the Parks Department at Hayes and Harlington, Middlesex and then as Assistant Parks Superintendent at Lytham St. Anne's. In October 1969 he joined the Ministry of Transport, where he worked alongside Anthony Dunbal (1 953) on the landscaping and ecological management of
motorways and trunk roads. At the beginning of 1970, another change of direction when he joined a private company specializing in the restoration of derelict land. This involved the vegetating and landscaping of colliery spoil heaps (including establishment of parks and playing fields in such areas) and areas surrounding graving docks in Northern Scotland. At one such area, Nigg Bay at the side of Cromary Firth, saline sand and mud had been dredged and spread on surrounding land and the work involved specifying restoration to surrounding landscape values.

With the oil crisis of I 975 undermining the construction and landscape industries, Tom moved to the Middle East to obtain contracts and to design and supervise construction, initially in the UAE, where he specified and constructed the flrst natural grass football fields in the Arabian Peninsula. Other projects included the design (designs by Allan Hart, Guild President 2002-2003) and construction of an Arab family public park (separate screened gardens for families, within the park) and the establishment of a 100km forest in a desert area on the borders of the Abu Dhabi Emirate and Saudi Arabia. He moved to Saudi Arabia in 1979, where he established his own landscape company. Projects included technical designs and construction of football fields in municipal stadia in various parts of the country. The brief was to minimize water use and the design incorporated the laying Of an impervious membrane beneath the growing zone and collection of all surplus irrigation Water, Purification by reverse osmosis, and reuse. As there was no topsoil, selection of the growing media was all important, together with Kew-acquired knowledge on plant nutrition, plus some consideration of the Jack Souster principles. Other work included the design and construction of gardens for Saudi Princes - sometimes to Islamic designs, others were Western gardens. Also public works including landscaping of the National Guard HQ in Riyadh, Dahran Military Base and of the new British Embassy Ambassador's garden, and Embassy staff gardens, also in Riyadh.

The landscape works in Saudi Arabia involved the import of plants from various countries, including Spain. Tom established a link with Huerto del Cure in Elche, who imported trees and shrubs from Cuba - and now plants from that country grow happily in Saudi Arabia.

Tom moved to Spain in the late eighties and was Project Manager for a major landscape project in Barcelona in the early nineties. This involved extensive hanging gardens on four storeys of a major construction, including large numbers of mature trees and palms, with lawns and planted borders down to the planting of mature palms on the beach. Tom's last position was as a garden, sports field and landscape consultant from his home in The Wirral. 

As will be seen from a description of his work, the former President considered that he had a debt to RBG Kew. He is particularly influenced by Kewites. It is not possible to mention all but they include fellow students, especially Allan Hart and Mike Clift, who also were of the 1956 induction: Nigel Hepper, a tutor in 1956 and an influence and a friend for life; Norman Robson - a valued and influential tutor. Tom was married to Julie and has eight offspring) graduates in almost any subject you care to mention (except botany or horticulture) and eight grandchildren. He was an enthusiastic Rotarian (introduced by Richard Ward, President  1998-1999) and was President of the Rotary Club of West Wirral in 2007-2008. His professional voluntary work included judging Green Pennant, Green Flag and Green Heritage for the Civic Trust, which he carried out for eight years. He was Honorary Secretary for the Institute of Horticulture (North West and North Wales Branch) from 1996 to 2006.

In 2003 the Kew Guild awarded Tom with a scholarship that enabled him to study the Commercial and Botanical Horticulture of Costa Rica. He combined this with an effort to raise funds for one of his favourite charities, the National Deaf Children’s Society, so he actually cycled across that country to raise funds.

He was Events Office for the Guild from 1993 - 2003 and then Secretary from 2003 - 2006.

He was an avid supporter of the local rugby club (Caldy), where he supervised the pitch maintenance with a group of elderly gentlemen styling themselves ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’.