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To coincide with  World Book Day, Devon’s Tim Penrose has brought out his first book, “Undertaking In The Fast Lane” which chronicles his life as an undertaker before he started  squirting squirt garlic wash on his award-winning Orange Marmalade.

Former funeral director, Tim Penrose runs “Bowdens” in Sticklepath on the northern edge of Dartmoor in Devon. It is the UK’s leading hosta nursery.

It is one of the few specialist plant centres where you can discuss herbaceous perennial plants as well as vicars, strange mortuary technicians and even serial killer, Dr Harold Shipman.


“When I worked in Manchester he used to come over from his practice in Hyde and sign cremation forms. He was a regular – once a week probably,” says Tim, the son of a greengrocer.

“I was kicked out of school for messing around and had a bet with a mate about who would get a job first. He was starting as a milkman on the Monday so I had to think of a job no-one would apply for. And I got one, managing a funeral home in Hereford.

“I arranged Sir Harold Nicholson’s funeral when I was nineteen. The average funeral price then -1984- was £480. I imported an American Batesville Casket and provided a white washed bricked grave, Rolls Royce hearse and three limos and a  photographer winched up in their air on an embalming table! The bill was £11,500. I bought my first house for £7,500! I also arranged funerals for the SAS regiment.

“I was always moaning about how bad cafes were and Ruth got so fed up she bet me I couldn’t run one. In 1990 with £85 we opened Hudson’s Coffee House in Birmingham. Liveried waiters served gourmet sandwiches and afternoon tea in bone china and two-and-a-half years later we  won the the Egon Ronay “Best Teahouse Of The Year” in the UK.  Then my father-in-law’s nursery came up for sale.”WWWW-2592

The Penroses bought the business from Ruth’s parents who were hosta pioneers. They now also specialize in bamboos, ferns and hold the National Agapanthus Collection.

Bowden Hostas has won over a hundred horticultural gold medals ( including eight in a row) and from 2007 to 2015  was awarded a Royal Warrant for hostas from HRH the Prince Of Wales.

“Preserving the heritage of these brilliant plantsmen is so important. I’m on a mission to make it happen in my lifetime.  I am not a hosta nerd. Although my wife probably is!”

Former nurse and midwife, Ruth believes her husband’s worms will sell more than his words. “ Wilfred’s Wonderful Worm Wee  comes from local worms,” she says. “We have special worms in Devon.  Ours are particularly selected elderly male worms with a penchant for regularly waking during the night for a wee.  There wee is rich in nutrients. Our wormery is called Wilf.”GGGG-2592

The worms are well-looked after.  Adds Tim : “I feed them lots of nice veg peelings -not too many onions or citrus- and sing  to the worms sometimes. We also make our own vinegar weed killer as well as Godfrey’s Garlic Guard and other nearly-patented plant elixirs!”


The current Bowden’s hosta catalogue includes  Bedazzled, Wrinkle in Time,  Lady Guinevere, Tickle Me Pink, Stand By Me,  Marshmallow Sky , School Mouse, Let’s Twist Again , Stand By Me,  Leapin’ Lizard ,  Cheatin’ Heart , Whirligig and the distinctive  Orange Marmalade.


Hostas are also called plantain lilies and occasionally by the Japanese name giboshi. The genus was named by Austrian botanist in 1812 in homage to another Austrian botanist, Nicholas Thomas Host. 


The current Bowden’s hosta catalogue includes  Bedazzled, Wrinkle in Time,  Lady Guinevere, Tickle Me Pink, Stand By Me,  Marshmallow Sky , School Mouse, Let’s Twist Again , Stand By Me,  Leapin’ Lizard ,  Cheatin’ Heart , Whirligig and the distinctive Orange Marmalade.


The 70-odd wild hosta species originate from China, Japan and Korea. They are all hardy in the UK . Adds Ruth : “ Large ones like “Sum And Substance” can grow up to 90cm with a 1.8m spread. . My favourite agapanthus is probably Northern Star.”


Her parents bred classics such as Devon Blue, Devon Giant, Devon Gold and Devon Mist.  Says the newly-published author and former undertaker : “  No vampire are harmed in the making our garlic guard. Slugs quake when they smell  it. But hostas thrive.”