A DARWEN man who is a leading figure at Kew Gardens has become one of only 100 people in the world to be given a top horticultural honour.

Tony Kirkham, 51, raised in Bull Hill, Darwen, has been recognised for his distinguished service to horticulture as Head of the Arboretum at Kew Gardens.

He was presented with the Royal Horticultural Society Associateship of Honour at Hampton Court on July 6.

The medal is one of the most prestigious awards in his field and is only handed out when a member dies.

Mr Kirkham said: “I am really happy to join a list of 100 elite horticulturalists and will wear the medal with pride.”

Tony, who also tends the garden of Princess Alexan-dra, and his team are responsible for the management of more than 14,000 trees in the living collection at Kew.

His life-long love affair with plants began when he was a pupil at Ash Lee Primary. He said: “I remember being in class and the teacher brought in several trays of horse chestnuts and told me they would bloom on the Monday.

“When they flowered I was absolutely amazed.

“Natural history has always interested me and I gained further experience visiting Whitehall Park and the nearby moors.”

After leaving East Lancashire 35 years ago to study in Farnham, Surrey, he made his way to Kew in 1978 to complete a three-year diploma. His career at the institution commenced immediately and he progressed to his current senior position in 2001.

Tony’s world renowned expertise has seen him give lectures and seminars at places such as the Califor-nian Institute of Hortic-ulture, USA, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and Shanghai University, China.

Along the way he travelled all over the world to collect rare specimens, becoming the first westerner to visit parts of the Sichuan province in China.

From his family home in Twickenham, London, he has even found time to write several books, such as his updated version of George E Brown’s classic The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers and presented his own tv series on BBC2 called Trees That Made Britain.

RHS president Mr Giles Coode-Adams said: “The work that Tony and his fellow recipients of RHS awards have done over the years has produced a wonderful canon for new horticulturalists to learn from. “