George has 18-month Australia holiday, courtesy of Covid
George and Sandra Ogden were in Australia visiting family when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic last year.
Because of the ensuing quarantine and travel restrictions, what was meant to be a six-month stay soon stretched to eighteen.
“We were supposed to come back in April 2020,” said Mr Ogden, 84. “But we had some trouble getting out.
“We had to get permission from the Australian government to stay. Then I had to get my passport renewed. Then it was summer in Australia, so we thought we might as well stay.”
Fortunately they had understanding hosts. The Devonshire couple had made the 10,356-mile trip to see their daughters – Katie Farrell and Susan Holder – and their seven grandchildren, all of whom live 20 minutes north of Sydney.
Having served 40 years as parks superintendent for the City of Hamilton, Mr Ogden’s big concern during his protracted absence from home was the state of his normally lush garden.
“During all that time, the gardeners came to cut the grass and that was it,” he said. “When we got home it was a real mess.”
Mr Ogden retired in 2000 having left his stamp all over the city – he planted the palms on Front Street, created the moat garden at Fort Hamilton and helped develop many of the parks into what they are today.
Change was sometimes tough. When he arrived on the island from England in January 1962 he repeatedly heard the phrase: “But we've always done things that way.”
“I asked for some plant pots for Victoria Park and an alderman told me to just use old paint cans,” he said. “The alderman said as the paint decayed the plant would absorb the iron.”
Mr Ogden’s mother Elizabeth was a teacher; his father, Frederick, worked at Price's Candle Factory which owned Bromborough Pool, a village in what is now called Wirral.
“There was no electricity, so gas street lights were lit manually each night,” he said. “We only had one cold water tap in the kitchen and there was a toilet outside.”
Because of the factory, everything smelled.
“To make the candles, they used to boil down animal fat,” Mr Ogden said. “The smell was awful. You could not sleep at night sometimes. It was dreadful.”
He was three years old when the Second World War broke out.
“We were across the River Mersey from Liverpool,” he said. “We had to go into air raid shelters many, many nights because of the bombing on Liverpool’s docks and Liverpool itself. Also, a bomb dropped just outside the village and produced a big crater. As children, we would play in it.”
His interest in gardening started in primary school when he was given a plot of land to grow vegetables. His father also had an allotment, and the two bonded over a love of growing things.
Mr Ogden failed his 11-plus exams, which he attributes to poor teaching standards, and was forced to attend the equivalent of a vocational school.
“We received no qualifications from that school,” he said. “I left with a Bible.”
He then worked as an apprentice gardener for Lever Brothers, a nearby soap factory, and studied horticulture at the Liverpool College of Technology one day a week.
In 1954, at 18, he entered the Royal Air Force to do his required two years of National Service. He worked as a radar operator in Oldenburg, Germany, monitoring the Russians.
On his return to England, Mr Ogden did a two-year diploma course at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Wisley in Surrey. He then got a job with a landscaping company, but was not happy.
On hearing from a friend of the parks superintendent job on offer here, he applied.
“He was applying and he said that I should apply too,” Mr Ogden said. “I got the job and he didn’t. He didn’t like me much for that. But he did well in his life.”
He joined the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on Church Street, volunteering as a Sunday school teacher and then Sunday school superintendent for many years.
Mrs Ogden arrived in 1966 from Warwickshire, England to work as a nurse.
A mutual friend in the UK gave her Mr Ogden’s address, and suggested she get in touch.
“I wrote George a letter when I got here,” Mrs Ogden said. “A Canadian nurse was going by the post office, so I gave her threepence. She posted it, but she put a three cent Canadian stamp on it. So George got a note from the post office to say there is a letter, but you have to go and pay a penny to collect it.”
On their first date, Mr Ogden picked her up on a scooter. She sat side saddle as they drove to the Gazebo Lounge at the Hamilton Princess.
They married a year later.
Oil painting and flower arranging keep Mr Ogden busy when he is not gardening.
“I used to do very large foliage arrangements at the eastern end of the Cathedral,” he said. “I would do these palm arrangements that were 15ft high. But I have also done flower arranging on the altar, and also at Government House for the Queen’s birthday celebrations.”
He is an honorary member of the Bermuda Garden Club and, in 2002, edited their book Bermuda: A Gardener’s Guide.
For the past ten years he has been revising it.
“Botanists seem to change the plant name of plants quite often, so you have to update it,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be published at some point.”
For his efforts at beautifying Bermuda Mr Ogden received the Queen’s Medal and Badge of Honour in December 1992, and the Veitch Memorial Medal from the RHS in June 2002.
“There were only nine people in the world for that year to get that,” he said. “I had to go to London to collect it.”
Looking back over his life, he is most proud of the work he did with young people – in apprenticeship schemes with the parks and also at the Cathedral.
“I think I have had a very good and very interesting life,” he said. “It has been very full.”
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the person’s full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them