Geums are hardy flowers. They grow in all sorts of conditions, come in all sorts of colours and are both slug and rabbit-proof. And Roger Proud has been crazy about them for 20 years.

The 62-year-old horticulturalist has more than 60 varieties at the East of Eden nursery he owns in Ainstable, and is developing more all the time. It’s the largest collection of them in the country.

His work has won him the Lucy Cavendish Award at the Holker Garden Festival. And some of the people who turn up at the flower shows Roger has attended – from Hampton Court and Birmingham to Ayr and Edinburgh – come specifically for his geums.

A few years ago Roger was knocked for six by Lyme disease. At one time it made it hard to think straight and seemed to affect four senses: eyesight, hearing, taste and smell.

It was severely debilitating but most of the time Roger’s symptoms are milder now. The herbs and vitamins he has been taking seem to be working and he is hopeful the symptoms will eventually disappear – as sometimes happens.

But even at its height the illness didn’t stop him working. In fact work helped him to take his mind off it. After all he’s been working outdoors all his life.

Roger did his growing up in the Eden valley, much of it outside. He had five brothers and four sisters and recalls: “We were always in the garden. I was interested in plants from an early age. I’ve always been an outdoors type.”

It led him to a job in forestry, and at first growing plants and flowers was a sideline. When he and his wife, Wendy, married in 1979, Roger began by growing flowers for their garden, cultivating them on a small scale.

He would often attend flower shows and began to feel that he could do the same himself. The sideline grew – and he adds: “I got fed up with the other job!”

So East of Eden nursery became a full-time occupation and he grows all manner of flowers and plants for a living now. But why the particular fondness for geums?

“They have evergreen foliage, so there’s something there to see all through the year,” Roger explains. “They can be red, pink, yellow, orange. The only colours you don’t get are blues or purples.”

They’re also native European plants, he says – not an invasive species like Himalayan balsam or Japanese knotweed. And they’re hardy enough to withstand our increasingly weird weather.

“They like shade and moisture, but they can grow anywhere.

“The rabbits don’t bother them and the slugs don’t bother them. They might hide under them, but they don’t eat them.”

He adds dryly: “I believe they are deer-proof too – but I haven’t had any deer in my garden.”

The first variety that Roger developed he named “Poco”, after the Californian country rock band of which he is a long-standing fan.

Three strains prove particularly popular with customers. “East of Eden” is a creamy colour with pink patches, “Toffee Apple” is a deep pink with toffee or peach-coloured areas and “Roger’s Rebellion” is raspberry-red with splashes of cream.

Some of the other notable flowers in the nursery are astibles – and Roger has more than 40 of them. “They like boggy conditions and have flowers like spires. They come in purples, reds and whites.

“I used to do hypericum like St John’s wort, and I did quite few rockroses, but not so much now.”

Working outdoors might be considered healthy, but it might also have led to the medical condition Roger has battled for several years now.

Lyme disease is spread by bites from ticks, the tiny, spider-like creatures found in woodlands and heath areas. Roger believes he first picked it up while working as a forester.

But at first doctors seemed unaware of it.

Patients with early-stage Lyme disease often develop a distinctive, circular rash which looks like a bull’s eye on a dart board. They might also suffer flu-like symptoms like tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches and stiffness.

But so many other ailments share these symptoms that it wasn’t immediately obvious to doctors that Lyme disease was their cause.

Yet Roger was in no doubt. “I had problems with my stomach, dizziness and a buzzing in my head. I felt terrible the Christmas before last.”

Factfile: Lyme disease

  • Lyme disease has some of the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis but it was first identified as a distinct illness in Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975
  • It cannot be transmitted from human to human but if a tick bites an animal carrying the bacteria that causes it, the tick can become infected and then transfer the bacteria to a human by biting them
  • Ticks are common in woodland and heath areas but can also be found in gardens or parks. They don’t jump or fly but can climb onto your clothes or skin
  • People who spend time in woodland or on heaths are most at risk of developing Lyme disease
  • Cases are reported all over Britain but Exmoor, the New Forest, Thetford Forest in Norfolk, the North York Moors and Cumbria are places where it’s common
  • In 1989 a report found that a quarter of forestry workers in the New Forest were carrying it
  • It is thought that global warming may increase the risk of infection, with ticks more active and people spending more time outdoors


His senses were impaired and he remembers: “It did make it hard to think straight sometimes. I was told it was anxiety. But I’d read about a woman who’d had Lyme disease and I was convinced it was what I had. I had to have four blood tests before they diagnosed it.”

He reflects: “It needs to be recognised. People should know more about it.”

However Roger believes he was lucky. “Some people with Lyme disease can hardly get out of bed. A lot of people can’t get rid of it. But other people can eventually get it out of their systems. It comes and goes, but the herbs and vitamins have helped.”

Roger and Wendy have three children. Their son Wayne, aged 30, works for Morrisons, and Dean, 29, works for Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle. Their 20-year-old daughter Stacey isn’t working at the moment.

None of them plans to follow in their dad’s footsteps. “They aren’t interested I’m afraid!” he finds. “But you can’t force people.”

So as long as he can keep the worst symptoms at bay he won’t be stopping.

“I’m three years off 65, but I don’t think I’ll be retiring. I’ll keep going as long as I can.”

East of Eden Nursery is normally open from mid-March to October but is also open at other times by appointment. To book one, call Roger on 01768 896604.