Obituary: Farewell to Eric Gurman, famed for his dahlias

Eric Gurman tending his Dahlias in 2002

Eric Gurman tending his Dahlias in 2002 - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Eric Gurman, famed for his dahlias, has died at the age of 80.

A familiar contributor to North London flower shows, in latter years Eric juggled stays in hospital with getting his dahlias ready. Last September he managed one last triumphant stand at the Muswell Hill Horticultural Society autumn show, winning the Cummins Cup for Highest Points.

Eric cut a dapper figure at the shows, often dressed in dark blazer and white shirt, but this elegance did not mask how frail he was, or how much his continued ability to exhibit flowers was a joint enterprise with Eileen, his wife.

Visiting Eileen in their Stapleton Hall Road garden two days before his funeral, it was touching to see, in full vigorous flower, daffodils he had planted last year.

“Eric loved ordering all sorts of flowers,” she said, looking with particular pride at a pot of brilliant double yellow daffodils.

Then, having paused at some frothy, ruffled cream and pink ones, she added, “he would have loved those”. Yes, she agreed, Eric did like glamour …

This observation naturally led to how Eileen and Eric met. It was at a dance at the Winchester Arms in Archway Road in about 1958.

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Eileen, a dressmaker, was doubtless looking the epitome of Grace Kelly-like glamour, full skirt, stiff petticoats, 22 inch waist accentuated by wide belt – no wonder Eric was disappointed to hear that she didn’t need walking home. Her dad was coming to fetch her.

This setback was only temporary, and anyway, Eric’s childhood experiences as an evacuee had taught him to be resilient.

Eileen thinks it was probably in his teens, on his war-wounded father’s allotment, that he first encountered gardening.

She had not realized how interested he was in it until they moved into the house in 1963.

Her uncle, an expert grower of chrysanthemums, helped them get going.

The first flower shows they went in for were in Wightman Road.

Not having a car, they used to trundle their exhibits in the pram.

When that society folded they joined Muswell Hill and also showed at Finchley Road, where Mrs Thatcher sometimes presented the prizes, and, later on, Central Hornsey and District Allotments and Highgate Horticultural Society shows.

At the prompting of his beloved stepbrother, Eric once submitted entries to a village flower show in Essex, but never again … his success was resented by the locals.

Eric lived long enough to see dahlias come back into fashion, although the care he took to get perfect, big blooms may remain a thing of the past.

Last year, says Eileen, they were unable to do much disbudding, and she was amazed at how lovely the resultant mass of smaller flowers was. Many of us remember with fondness his deployment of umbrellas to protect the vulnerable perfection of dinner plate sized blooms, of, for instance, the pinky mauve variety, Sir Alf Ramsay.

Others he liked included the fiery Spanish Dancer, Pink Powder Puff, bright red Cornell and two versions of Lady Linda, one white, one yellow. Eileen remarked that many people nowadays say “no flowers” at funerals, but that wouldn’t be right for Eric.

He really loved flowers; snapdragons, begonias, pansies, lilies, narcissi, chrysanthemums, but best of all, dahlias. He loved to show them to people, to win prizes and to see these successes in the local newspapers.

That is why Eileen was sure he would be proud to be remembered in the Ham & High. There are many gardeners in North London who will miss him, both for his expertise and his kindness.