Percy John Thrower was a British gardener, horticulturist, broadcaster and writer known publically as "Britain's first celebrity gardener."
Thrower was born January 30, 1913 at Horwood House in the village of Little Horwood, England. His father worked as a gardener at Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk before moving to Horwood House near Bletchley (now part of Milton Keynes) in Buckinghamshire to work as head gardener. At 18, he became a journeyman gardener at the Royal Gardens at Windsor Castle where he lived in the bothy at Windsor, along with 20 other improver gardeners and disabled ex-servicemen employed on full wages. He spent five years there under the head gardener, Charles Cook, the head gardener, his future father-in-law.
On August 1, 1935, Thrower became a journeyman for the City of Leeds Parks Department. He also passed the Royal Horticultural Society’s General Exam and moved to work for the Derby Parks Department in 1937, working to the position of Assistant Parks Superintendent. At Derby, he met John Maxfield, a master gardener who remained a lasting influence on his life. Thrower also studied and passed the National Diploma in Horticulture (N.D.H.) and became a lecturer at Derby Technical College.
On September 9, 1939, at Sandringham, Percy married Constance Margaret Ina, the daughter of Charles Cook, who was now the head gardener at Sandringham, where he had been assigned by Queen Mary. They received a wedding gift of a set of Burslem china dishes from Queen Mary. Percy's own father died on 31 December 1939. During World War Two, Thrower became a leading light in the "Dig for Victory" campaign, carrying out educational visits to many of the local parks and even the Derby Sewerage Works. He also became a Special Constable on fire-watching duties after twice being turned down for active service after volunteering. After the war, he moved to Shrewsbury in 1946, and became Parks Superintendent at just 32 years of age, a post he held until 1974. He also helped design the garden in Berlin on behalf of the Shropshire Horticultural Society with the Berlin Superintendent of Parks, Herr Witte. Opening the garden in May 1952 lead to Thrower appearing as the host of several gardening TV shows, including "Country Calendar" and "Out and About," later renamed "Gardeners' World" from 1969 until 1976. He starred in a spoof of the show on The Benny Hill Show.
From 1974 until 1987, Thrower also appeared as the gardener on the TV series, "Blue Peter," persuading numerous celebrities to give up a few hours every week to work in it. He tended one and a half acres of garden near his home in Shrewsbury which subsequently became the location for some of the episodes of "Gardeners' World." He opened the garden to the public in 1966, which become an annual event to raise money for charity. In 1970, in partnership with Duncan Murphy, he bought the firm of Murrell's of Shrewsbury and turned it into the Percy Thrower Garden Centre.
Retiring in 1974, Thrower started a weekly column for the Daily Mail in 1975 and for several other papers, notably the Daily Express and the Sunday Express. He also wrote for the magazine, Amateur Gardening, and wrote many books, which were published by Collingbridge and later Hamlyn.
In 1975, he agreed to do a series of commercials with Plant Protection, a subsidiary of ICI, which led to his dismissal as host of "Gardeners' World" for the BBC. He continued to lecture and wrote his memoirs, "My Lifetime of Gardening," the same year the Royal Horticultural Society awarded him the Victoria Medal of Honour, their highest honor. He was also appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1984.
Touring gardening spots in Europe through with travel agent Harold Sleigh, Thrower established the Percy Thrower Floral Tours Company, chartering ships for lecture cruises. He took ill shortly thereafter and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. He made his last recording for "Blue Peter' from the hospital one week before he died, passing away in the Royal Hospital of Wolverhampton on March 18, 1988 at the age of 75; his ashes were buried in the churchyard at Leaton near Bomere Heath, Shropshire where he had lived. He was survived by his wife and three daughters, Margaret, Susan and Ann.