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All the best: Robin Mercer on his favourite things

By Kerry McKittrick

The 61-year-old runs Hillmount Garden Centre with one of his three sons, Alan (30). He lives near Belfast with his wife Edith and their other sons David (36) and Andrew (34).

My best moment

Getting married to Edith was the best day of my life, but a close second would be the day I became a grandad. Our first grandchild Isla was born last year and it has given me a new perspective on life. I can’t wait until she gets older so my wife and I can take her out for the day. 

My best song‎

I’ve chosen John Denver’s Country Roads. The song reminds me of a great week spent in Co Cavan with a hot air ballooning club. We changed the lyrics of the song from West Virginia to ‘wet Virginia, Co Cavan’ and it became the theme tune of our trip away.  

My best way to relax

I took up hot air ballooning in 1997 and it has really helped me take more time off work.  It feels like a celebration of good weather.  You don’t realise how beautiful the scenery we have here is until you fly from Strangford Lough towards the Mourne mountains in a hot air balloon.  I even go on ballooning holidays. Flying in Italy over the sunflower fields at 6.30am is a nice way to switch off — there are no mobile phones and plenty of fresh air. 

My best job‎

Hillmount Garden Centre was started 75 years ago by my grandfather and, although I grew up in it, I wasn’t expected to work there. I went to England to study and then came back here to study horticulture at Greenmount College, before my grandfather passed away and I came to work at Hillmount. It was only a market garden back then, but I have always enjoyed getting my hands dirty. I didn’t want a nine to five job and I wanted to be my own boss. I still enjoy it and that’s the main thing.

My best bit of advice

My grandfather instilled in me the belief that whatever the job, the only thing you should ever leave behind is a good impression. We do a lot of contract and landscaping work and he always told me to sweep up after myself and leave everywhere I’ve worked clean and tidy.

My best gift

For my 50th birthday I got the surprise present of a TVR Cerbera — a sports car — from my sons and my wife. I still have it today and really enjoy going out on Sunday evenings in it, when the weather’s good enough to drive. I’ve always liked nice cars that are a little different, so I was gob-smacked when they bought me that.

My best achievement

I became a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society a few years ago.  This was awarded to me for my achievements in horticulture over the years, including our annual floral display at Balmoral, regular radio interviews and expanding Hillmount over the years. There aren’t many of us and I was very honoured by my nomination.

My best buy

My house was one of the first timber-framed kit houses in Northern Ireland.  We had it imported from Sweden from Annasburg Hus.  It was a 1,050sq ft kit house which cost £6,500 and another £6,500 to build.  It is still as energy-efficient today, as it so well insulated, and it’s lasted us 40 years.

My best book

Richard Branson’s autobiography Losing My Virginity. It really does make anything seem possible if you have the right team and the right mindset.  I’m always busy even when I go on holidays, so it’s taken me a while to read. It’s very interesting to understand how he was brave enough to gamble everything on expanding his business. 

My best film

The Italian Job with Michael Caine. I had just passed my driving test and had bought a £60 Mini. I love the car and loved how the film showed what they could do. I thought the whole thing was something special. 

  • Robin Mercer runs Hillmount Garden Centre in Belfast and Bangor with his son Alan. The garden centre in Belfast is hosting a 75th anniversary exhibition until September.

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