Creator of Fullers Mill Garden, Bernard Tickner dies aged 93

Company: Perennial

Bernard Tickner MBE, whose home was at Fullers Mill, West Stow, died peacefully at Pinford End Nursing Home, Hawstead in Suffolk, this week. He was 93. Bernard leaves a legacy of achievements in both professional and private spheres which have enriched the lives of those in his local community and beyond.

In recognition of his services to wildlife conservation and horticulture, Bernard was awarded an MBE in 2017 by Her Majesty The Queen. He wrote about his varied life in a memoir, A Scratch in the Soil, published in June 2017, which covers his military service in East Africa, a distinguished career with Greene King as Head Brewer and creator of its award-winning draught Abbot Ale, a prominent role in the creation of Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Lackford Lakes Reserve with generous gifts of land, finance and advocacy and sixty years as a plantsman and maker of the garden at Fullers Mill.

Peter Newman, Chief Executive of Perennial, says: “Bernard was, to all those who knew him, a force to be reckoned with. His age was no barrier and he continued to play a full role in the development of his beloved garden at Fullers Mill and to make a valued contribution to Suffolk wildlife conservation until very recently. His contribution to the local brewing industry in Suffolk has seen long-standing economic growth and worldwide renown for Greene King and his place in the world of horticulture, through the creation of Fullers Mill Garden and his subsequent gifting of it to Perennial, shall be his legacy for many generations to come. I feel honoured to have known him and on behalf of all those at Perennial, I must thank him again for his generosity in bestowing his garden to our care and for his commitment to changing the lives of horticulturists for the better through his support of the only charity dedicated to their wellbeing.”

Jim Buttress VMH, Perennial Trustee and good friend of Bernard, says: “I had the honour and privilege of becoming Chair of the Fullers Mill Garden Committee in 2013. The Chief Executive of Perennial at the time, Richard Capewell, knew of my love of real ale and hoped Bernard and I would hit it off – we got on famously.

Bernard was a gentleman through and through, it was so enjoyable to be in his company. He was very particular about his garden, which he had every right to be as it was his own. It gave Bernard tremendous pleasure that Perennial, a charity that looks after gardens and gardeners so well, were going to look after his.”

A life well led

Bernard Tickner was born in Hadleigh, Suffolk, on 22 May 1924 where his father was a bank manager but also a keen gardener. His schooling was curtailed by WW2 when he was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery. After military service he was given an opportunity to enter the brewing industry and rose to become Head Brewer and later Production Director of Greene King in Bury St Edmunds. He developed the award-winning Abbot Ale and the original recipe for The Queen Elizabeth Celebration Ale in May 1953. A bottle of this ale was added to a Diamond Jubilee celebratory cake, delivered to Buckingham Palace in May 2012. Despite his successful brewing career, his enthusiasm, energy and solace were always focussed on his love of plants.

From a flat in Bury St Edmunds, Bernard moved, with his Norwegian wife Betzy (known as Bess), to Fullers Mill in 1958 and began making the garden in what was an area of rough scrub and woodland, set on the River Lark. Today the gardens cover some 7 acres, laid out as a series of interconnecting areas. In January 2013 he entrusted it to Perennial, the UK’s only charity dedicated to helping all horticulturists, in order to secure its future so that visitors can enjoy the garden for years to come.

Bernard was mainly self-taught and was determined to absorb information from all books he could find on plants and horticulture. He studied Latin, Greek and botany to equip himself to engage with the world of plant science and horticulture. Experience built over the years was inspired and encouraged by his peers, including Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd. Being colour blind, he was most interested in the sculptural quality of a plant, but was always amused to receive compliments on his colour schemes.

Bernard was always ably supported by his wife Betzy and before she died in 2002 they established a charitable trust in order to safeguard the long-term future of the gardens for public benefit. The Fullers Mill Trust was activated in 2004 to promote scientific, horticultural, botanical, scenic, educational, research and ecological objects including conservation of nature, improvement of horticultural methods, vocational training and enjoyment of the public. In January 2013 the assets and aspirations of the Fullers Mill Trust were transferred as a gift to Perennial – Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society, thereby further extending the original objects into care and welfare of persons connected to the broader gardening and horticultural community.

The garden at Fullers Mill is vibrant evidence of Bernard’s lifelong love of plants. The garden is home to over 80 types of lily and a similar number of snowdrop cultivars which bloom from October to March. The collection of Euphorbia is equally striking. During one of their regular excursions to Crete, Bernard’s wife discovered Iris cretensis ‘Bess Tickner’, which was subsequently introduced to the garden. Bernard also developed a fine collection of alpine plants which benefit from the sandy, well drained but moist soil alongside Mill Steam. One is named after him, a yellow form of Fritillaria pyrenaica, which he discovered in the Pyrenees some 30 years ago.

His love of gardening led to a lifelong commitment to ecological and wildlife conservation and throughout his lifetime Bernard was a loyal and generous supporter of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. After moving to Fullers Mill he was faced with the incursion of gravel extraction on adjacent land and fought a lengthy battle over 40 years to prevent the destruction of habitat and obliteration of historical waterways. He founded the community action Lark Valley Gravel Group, which coordinated efforts of parishes throughout the Lark Valley (Lackford, Hengrave, Culford, West Stow and The Fornhams) to campaign against planning applications, press for appropriate planning constraints and to ensure that restorative plans should be for the exclusive benefit of wildlife conservation and public access.

By his efforts through the Group he ensured the protection of the Culford Stream, a fine gravel bed stream that is home to wild trout, and prevented the felling and removal of Ash Carr Wood, an outstanding example of wet woodland. By his persistent and passionate drive over a lengthy period, he gained and maintained the enthusiastic support of local communities and persuaded national bodies, including the Environment Agency, to oppose commercial development. He forced the operator into planning appeals and in both instances the inspector was persuaded to deny the appeals by the aggregates firm.

Bernard gave land and financial support to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust throughout his life. He first enabled the Trust to purchase a meadow, which he had rented from St Edmundsbury Borough, to ensure its continued use for wildlife conservation. In 1976 he donated 11 hectares of land and lakes to the Trust allowing it to create a wildlife reserve. Most recently Bernard donated £100,000 to the SWT Appeal to purchase more land to extend the Lackford Lakes reserve and extend the existing visitor centre. Its appeal target was reached on Monday 6 November. The new extension will be named The Bernard and Bess Tickner Wild Learning Room.

Bernard’s book, A Scratch in the Soil, is available to purchase at £8.50 from Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow, Bury St Edmunds IP28 6HD or from the Perennial website here. For more information about the garden and opening times visit

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