Green-fingered David Hargate is saying farewell to Sheffield’s parks and gardens after a ‘life-long love affair’.
David began working in the Botanical Gardens with the city council parks department as a 16-year-old fresh out of school.
And now – 44 years later aged 59 – he is standing down as the council Head of Parks.
“I wanted an outdoor job, my father was an engineer in the steel industry and I nearly ended up as a steel turner but my father pointed me in the direction of the parks,” David recalled.
“I loved biology and geography. I wasn’t academic but I liked nature and birds and you could always find me as a child with a mucky face playing in High Hazel Park.”
David grew up on the Manor estate and was taken on as an apprentice at the Botanical Gardens.
He said: “It was a park I had never been to before. I can’t even remember going there as a child. I started a life-long love affair with the Botanical Gardens. It is a fascinating place. I didn’t know anything about plants. It was all a discovery. There were lots of firsts for me here, it’s where I first learn to prune roses.”
After a three year apprenticeship, David went to Askham Bryan College to study amenity horticulture and was given a job in Sheffield recreation department when he completed the course in 1977. Rising quickly through the ranks he became a manager at just 23 and was made Head of Parks in 2011.
He said that the condition of the parks have improved over the years.
“We’ve experienced significant parks improvement through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has been a great benefit to parks in Sheffield. The Botanical Gardens has been restored to its former glory.
“The parks define the city’s image both nationally and internationally. They are one of the things that the people of Sheffield love about the city and visitors are always surprised by the greenery. You don’t have to go far for a park or woodland.”
David finds it difficult to choose a favourite park admits to being ‘extremely fond’ of Norfolk Heritage Park.
“I’ve seen it suffer through vandalism and arson and it was restored in the late 1990s.
“It’s a fabulous park with great views. It is grade two listed and there are always lots of events there. The Royal Ballet did a performance and there used to be the milk race and a soap box derby. It is just a fun place.”
Other spots close to his heart are the Whinfell Quarry Garden near Whirlow Brook Park which he describes as ‘a hidden gem’.
“And I’m really proud of South Street park, the alliums there at the moment are beautiful.”
The parks have seen tough times recently as the budget for green spaces has been slashed.
David said: “The thing I’m most satisfied with during the latter years of my career is steering us through the deepest cuts we’ve ever seen and still remaining positive and passionate about what we do.
“There used to be 600 staff, now there are 250 doing the same job – that is less than half the people there used to be.”
Over the years David has enjoyed participating in the events which have taken place in the parks, including fireworks displays on Guy Fawkes Night, but one particular event does stand out in his memory.
“I was fond of Party in the Park that was put on by Hallam FM. I remember the Spice Girls appeared on stage at Don Valley Bowl and it was so warm. I had to throw water at the crowd to keep them cool which was very fun. I didn’t really realise who they were at the time either.”
Although he is leaving at the end of the month, it is not quite farewell to his beloved Botanical Gardens yet as David will return to play in his blues band The Harley Earl Blues Band at Art in the Gardens in September.
“I play guitar and sing occasionally. I plan to become a bit of a better guitar player and see some more of my wife. And I’ll try to find some time to go fly fishing too.
“I’m sad in one respect simply because I’ve been involved on the parks for so long but I’m also looking forward to not going to work every day. I want to enjoy my own garden an bit more.”