James Akers obituary

My father-in-law, James Akers, who has died aged 85, was an expert on the rare and beautiful English florist tulip, which is distinguished by flamed and feathered markings that were initially caused by a virus but which are now part and parcel of its physiognomy. The plant reached a peak in its popularity in the 19th century, but has since fallen out of favour, and at one time its very existence was threatened.

James wrote two books on English florist tulips, including Flames and Feathers (2012), and also cultivated many specimens, exhibiting them annually at the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society, which has the only major show specialising in their blooms. In homage to the working-class roots of the traditional tulip growers, the single stems of the flower are displayed at the show in brown beer bottles.

James was heavily involved in the Wakefield society for more than four decades, and helped to run its annual show, which is attended by growers from all over the UK, as well as a small coterie of enthusiasts from Sweden. It is partly thanks to James’s work – as well as that of the society – that the English florist tulip has lived on.

James Akers in his greenhouse in Wakefield
James Akers in his greenhouse in Wakefield

Tulips were not James’s only horticultural passion, however: he was also an expert on daffodils, and for many years travelled across Europe with his wife, Wendy, in the hope of identifying new ones. That quest finally bore fruit with their discovery in 2008 in Galicia, northern Spain, of a new type which he named Bulbocodium akersianus. The greenhouses at his home were always full of daffodils that he had crossed and cultivated, and he named his most recent creation, Romane Allen, after one of his grandchildren.

James was born in Wakefield, the only child of Jim, a colliery worker with a passion for gardening, and his wife, Kitty (nee Thorpe), a seamstress. Educated at Normanton grammar school, he graduated in 1959 from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology before becoming an electrical engineer for Marconi in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

By 1969 he was back up north, working in Leeds at Yorkshire Imperial Fittings (later Yorkshire Copperworks) as a stock and production manager, switching to IT in the mid-1980s and staying there until his retirement in 1996, by which time he was the company’s IT manager for Europe.

It was James’s return in 1969 to Wakefield, and a house with a huge garden, that gave him the space to cultivate tulips and daffodils. But it was not until he retired that he really had the time, and the extra energy, to travel widely in search of rare and interesting flowers.

He was made MBE for services to tulip horticulture in 2008, and at the World Tulip Summit in Canada in 2017 he was presented with the Order of the Tulip, which recognises individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of the plant as a symbol of world friendship.

Wendy (nee Bell), a fellow horticultural enthusiast whom he married in 1956, died in 2017. He is survived by five children, Noel (my husband), Sarah, Kate, Charlotte and Daniel, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Back to top button