TRIBUTES have been paid to the long-serving head gardener of Durham Botanic Garden following his sudden death.

A passionate plant man who shaped and shared the joys of the Durham University attraction for almost four decades, Mike Hughes was – for many – the face and name of the garden.

Mr Hughes started working at the garden as a YTS trainee, straight after leaving school, more than 35 years ago and eventually became head gardener.

Former manager Steve Ansdell said: “Mike soon began to understand the workings of a Botanic Garden and his interest in the world of plants really took off. He used to carry a notebook with him and write down the names of any new plants he came across and where they were from.

“On finishing his traineeship, he secured a full-time job at the garden and very quickly established himself as a valuable member of staff who was always ready to take on any task.

“Mike’s construction skills came to the fore at this time too and the results can still be seen in and around the garden.

“He eventually became head gardener and embraced the role wholeheartedly.”


Mike Hughes, who died suddenly during a run on New Year’s Day

Mike Hughes, who died suddenly during a run on New Year’s Day

Mike Hughes preparing for the gardens 21st anniversary .

Mike Hughes preparing for the garden's 21st anniversary .


Under Mr Hughes’ direction, the garden won numerous regional and national awards and he worked closely with the Friends of the Garden volunteers, who have been deeply saddened by his death and have described him as a kind, energetic, supportive and inspiring man.

Mr Hughes loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for plants from around the world, especially when taking hundreds of schoolchildren on garden tours.

And when the garden was closed between March 2020 and January 2021 due to coronavirus lockdowns he published an online blog sharing photographs from the garden for 300 consecutive days to share its flora and fauna with the outside world.

Mr Hughes and wife, Heather, who were married almost 30 years, met in a Youth Hostel during a trip to the Lake District.

They lived on-site at the garden for many years with daughter, Sally, before moving to nearby Littletown.

He loved being outdoors and enjoyed walking and running and it was during a run with friends, on Waldridge Fell, on New Year’s Day, that he collapsed and died of a suspected cardiac arrest, aged 54.

Sally, 24, said: “For a long time the garden was his life.

“A few years ago he started running with our dog, then parkrun, then got really into it and became a massive body in the off-road and fell running world.

“In 2015 he did the Bob Graham Round in the Lakes but didn’t tell people and pushed the certificate to the back of a drawer, he was modest and quiet.

“He was really popular, he didn’t just make polite conversation but genuinely cared about everyone he spoke to.

“We were very close and went on lots of adventures and bike-packing trips in Europe, we didn’t waste a minute.”


Showing off his new umbrella

Showing off his new umbrella


David Loudon, director of estates and facilities at Durham University, said: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mike Hughes, garden manager at our Botanic Garden.

“Mike was a long-serving colleague and a highly respected and valued member of our team. He was a well-known member of our community and his enthusiasm and passion will be greatly missed by all.

“Our thoughts are with Mike’s family at this sad time.”

Mr Ansdell added: “Mike Hughes was a kind, thoughtful and very generous man who was well liked and respected by all who knew and loved him.

“I was proud of what he achieved and to have him as a friend. Our thoughts are with Heather, Sally and his family at this very sad time.”

David Spence, membership secretary for the Friends, said: “I worked closely with Mike over many years.

“He was a great supporter of the Friends and always generous with his time.

“He became a friend and I along with the Friends, his gardening team and everyone who knew him will miss him greatly.”


Mike Hughes at work in the Durham Botanic Garden

Mike Hughes at work in the Durham Botanic Garden


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