A GARDENER who finally clinched a prize he chased for three years has vowed to turn professional.

Mark Lonergan, in Church Path, Wanstead, gave up a career in marketing and publishing he held for 25 years to pursue his passion for horticulture.

He has now won the title of Best Front Garden of the Year in Redbridge in Bloom.

The 46-year-old was “genuinely stunned” to win the award.

He said: “I was astounded, genuinely stunned. I didn’t turn up thinking I was going to win. I was like one of these actors at Oscars sitting at the back.

“It took some doing – last year I was second and two years ago I was joint third. My persistence paid off.

“I was very pleasantly surprised – for the last ten years the same man won. I kept entering because I love gardening but with no hope of winning. He’d won so often that I never thought I was going to do it. 

“I kept improving the garden and adding more interesting plants and worked hard to keep it architectural. Others I’ve seen are floral and traditional but mine’s a more limited palette of colour.”

The 46-year-old said there was hot competition between entrants.
He said: “There’s a competitive edge, no point pretending there isn’t. Genuinely it was an honour to beat the reigning champion. I thought he was going to win forever. 

“For the borough to recognise my work was really lovely but I don’t do it to win awards, I do it because I like it. 

“I didn’t realise when I did the front garden how nice it would be and how you’d meet new people. I speak to two or three new people when I do the front garden in the summer. It’s turned into a really sociable thing that’s allowed me to get to know my neighbours better.”

Mr Lonergan made the move from publishing to horticulture after a quarter of a century because he wanted to do something he loved on a full-time basis.

He gave up his role as chief executive of August Media last Christmas and began a diploma at Capel College in Enfield.

The 46-year-old was CEO of August Media, a company he started with several other business partners

Mr Lonergan said: “I gave up my job and went back to Horticulture College to be a professional gardener. I spent 25 years in publishing and marketing. I decided I had enough of that and wanted to do what I loved instead of what I fell into.”

He stopped working for August Media on Christmas Eve last year and began his diploma at Capel Manor College, Enfield, in September.

Mr Lonergan said: “It was scary jumping between the two. The company was doing well and it felt like I was never going to get off the treadmill.

“Most people thought I was mental to do what I did- they thought I would start a new company or work for a competitor.

”I thought I was psychotic too until I started in September. I’ve loved every minute of it. I will definitely become a professional.

“It’s a vocation and an artisan thing."