The Andreas man they call ‘Mr Begonia’ has been awarded an honorary medal recognising his decades of skilful horticulture.
And at 97, Albert Gostlow has proved that age is no barrier to growing and exhibiting his favourite flower.
He has collected no fewer than 227 cups for his prize-winning blooms in the last decade alone – and has even cultivated an entirely new variety of begonia named Gwendoline Woollard after a great friend and near neighbour.
He has also been nominated for a Queen’s Honour by his constituency MHK, Treasury Minister Eddie Teare.
He has been a member of the National Begonia Society for more than 30 years, and it is the society that has written to him with news of the honour.
‘I have won the biggest prize, a bronze medal for being a champion,’ Albert said from his home in Ballaradcliff. ‘I have written to the society before, they know about my flowers! I’ve picked up lots of cups since 1985, this is the result of it.’
He added: ‘I’m 97, and recovering from a heart operation, but I’m over the moon, it’s something I never dreamed of being able to do.’
The editor of the National Begonia Society’s magazine, Derek Telford, wrote to Albert: ‘I have just completed scanning through your legion of prize cards. Amazing. Just to say “well done” seems totally inadequate to describe the dedication and skill. Thank you for making the effort.’
Albert explained: ‘My family used to grow chrysanthemums in a big way. It was always in the back of my mind to become a gardener.
‘But I never got a chance then and had to become a hair dresser.’
Originally from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, his family moved to the Wirral but he had a rough time as a child, finding himself in the workhouse after his father died and mother remarried.
He says he ran away as soon as he could and enrolled in the Royal Artillery. In North Africa during the Second World War, he was part of Winston Churchill’s security during trips to Cairo.
As the war ended, he was posted near Rome as security for a large interrogation centre, from where he has vivid memories of Nazi generals being questioned.
Albert married a Manx woman, and they moved to Andreas after the war.
In the island, he developed his gardening skills and eventually landed a job as head gardener at Rushen Abbey gardens.
As champion begonia grower for about 30 years, he could win up to 40 cups a year – and says he was sick of cleaning them. So what’s the secret of his success?
‘You’ve got to understand them, give them loving care,’ he explained. ‘Everybody says to me: “What do you feed them?” I tell them that I don’t feed them. They think I’m keeping it secret. But I don’t feed them at all until I put them in the biggest pot, and even then only a quarter of the feed they tell you on the carton.’