From coal to Chelsea glory!

John Peace went from working down a mine to chrysanthemum champion. Below, John's chrysanthemums at the Chelsea flower show. Bottom, his winning first prize at the Northern Championship in Harrogate.
John Peace went from working down a mine to chrysanthemum champion. Below, John's chrysanthemums at the Chelsea flower show. Bottom, his winning first prize at the Northern Championship in Harrogate.
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In the early ’90s, John Peace left Easington Colliery pit for the last time, and went on to discover a new job and a passion through his green fingers. Alison Goulding reports.

AFTER 17 years of toil at the coal face, John Peace now spends his days on more colourful pursuits.

Following in the footsteps of his uncle Ronnie and father John, he has become a champion at exhibiting chrysanthemums.

And this year he outdid himself, bagging a gold award at the Chelsea Flower show for his stunning work.

John, 55, said: “Chelsea is the biggest show in the world. It’s the premiere show in the world. If you’re a Saudi Prince, that’s the show you’re going to.

“The show opens on Tuesday, but on Monday, the press and the celebrities are allowed in so they don’t get pestered. I’ve seen Joanna Lumley, David Bellamy and Michael Parkinson.

“I took over from a team that was very successful and they’d won 13 golds. They retired and asked if I’d do the job.

“This was my third year at Chelsea. The first two years I won silver gilt, but this year I got the gold.

“It was out of this world, brilliant. It’s a nice feeling putting in all that effort into it and just wanting to do well.”

John’s display scored highly in all the categories – impact, quality, creativity and endevour.

He said: “Over the years I’ve done bowls of different types and colours displayed on a tiered stage but this year all I asked for was a background and a 25ft by 3ft space. We made some nice little wrought iron stands and arranged the flowers in a big curve. I even did a scale model beforehand. I did something different and the judge said it was fantastic.

“A lot do the same displays and get a gold, but with it being the 100th show, it was time to do something different.

“You need two ‘Excellents’ to win gold and we got three.”

John used blooms from his contacts in Holland, since the flowers bloom in late summer and autumn in the UK.

Now he is busy making plans for 2014.

He said: “Now I’ve got to do it again next year. I’ve already started planning. It takes nine or ten months of work in advance.

“I’m still scratching my head about next year.”

John is a member of the National Chrysanthemum Society and has held the title of National Champion of Great Britain since 1997.

Three years ago John was asked to be floral and promotions manager for the society, promoting the flowers at big events like Taton Park, Hampton Court and Chelsea.

John said: “We used to have 20,000 members but now we have 1,500. Times have changed but then you look at the RHS and their membership has grown immenseley so we are trying to to take a leaf out of their book and change our ways to make them more modern.”

John began growing chrysanthemums 20 years ago. He said: “I take after my dad. My uncle started it and set the ball rolling. Then my dad started and when he did something he did it properly. He used to have flowers in the front room and I had to be careful when I walked past. It was something I thought I’d never do but when you settle down and have a family and you get sick of having a pint ...”

John’s father grew varities such as Tracey Waller, Ermine and Evelyn Bush and won countless titles at local and national level. When John showed an interest his dad taught him the key to success – consistency.

John said: “When the weather is very hot and I have to water the plants every day I sometimes wonder who would be mad enough to do this.

“But it’s about applying yourself and doing it even when you want to have a cup of tea later. If I do everything right and take no shortcuts I’m one step ahead. It’s doing everything right at the right time. If you want to be successful you put your heart and soul into it and it will come.”

John was a miner for 17 years at Easington Colliery. But the changing fortunes of the industry offered a fresh start.

John said: “My alarm would go off at 3am and I’d think ‘what am I doing?’

“It closed in 1994 after a year on strike.

“I would still be there now, I think, because the money was good. Coming to this job was a pay drop after I left college but they’ve been good to me over the years.

“When they closed I went back to horticultural college and got top marks.”

After gaining a distinction from Houghall College, John was employed as head groundman for Monk Hesleden Parish Council, one of the oldest parish councils in the country.

Today he is parks manager at Blackhall Welfare Park, where his son Antony also works.

John said: “Everyone knows I love my job and my hobby.

“You get the adrenalin rush of exhibiting, putting your display up and going back to see if you’ve been successful.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have done well over the years.”