Lord Heseltine arboretum book pays tribute to plantsmen and politicians' input

Thenford: The Creation of an English Garden by Michael and Anne Heseltine is published on 20 October.

The book pays tribute to many of the growers and gardeners who have helped develop the 50 acre garden on the Oxfordshire/Northamptonshire border since politician and Haymarket Publishing owner Lord Heseltine bought the house and land in 1977 to be near his new Henley constituency.

Plantsmen Roy Lancaster, Sir Harold Hillier, Allen Coombes, Keith Rushforth and Chris Chadwell were instrumental in advising on plant and tree choices.

Head gardener Darren Webster came to the garden from Kew more than 20 years ago.

Landscape architect Lanning Roper was also an advisor.

Gardens and arboretums such as Savill, Bedgebury, Kew, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Arboretum des Pouyouleix also provided specimens.

There are 3,000 different trees in the garden and many more plants. The garden also has many sculptures, including from famous names such as Elizabeth Frink, as well as a Lenin head from Moscow.

Nurseries such as Hillier, Crug Farm, Taylor’s Bulbs, Notcutts, Bowden, Evolution and Mattocks supplied plants.

Peverelli also supplied trees, as the Italian nursery had done for Heseltine’s Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984.

MPs such as Michael Mates and Michael Jopling also gifted plants.

Lord Heseltine said he increased his focus on the garden after expanding his horticulture publishing business at Haymarket.

He said he learnt about the "dark arts of [TV’s Yes Minister’s] Sir Humphrey while trying to get Hillier a knighthood, which involved several rejections and a personal plea to Margaret Thatcher.

A similar tale is attached to Lancaster’s 2014 CBE.

Heseltine built a half acre greenhouse in 1979 to grow chrysanthemums to sell in Covent Garden market but that became "our greatest mistake" and he had to sell it as oil prices rose 500 per cent after the 1973 oil crisis.

The book details several politicians that have had trees planted in tribute to them.

Lord Heseltine wrote: "This is not the place to fan old embers but because as an American company wished to purchase a British defence contractor was the background to the saga, it was all too easy for my critics to portray my position – quite wrongly – as anti American. After the event, Charlie [Price, the American ambassador in 1985/86 at the time of the Westland Affair] came to see the arboretum and asked if he could give me a tree.

"If I had been you", he said, "I would have done exactly as you did." He was a great ambassador."

The book includes recollections of Prince Charles, Ted Heath, Alec Douglas-Home, John Major and David Cameron visiting. But he says Margaret Thatcher had no idea he had a garden.

"Margaret Thatcher never came and almost certainly was quite unaware her one time environment spokesman was actually trying to create a bit of it.

"It was probably singularly inappropriate during a discussion of UK strategic policy to request access to Chequers to take a cutting from one if the famous box plants. I was able to satisfy myself that I had
a 'yes' and no one tried to stop my later excursion to nick the necessary cuttings. They flourish in our collection 30 years later."

He added: "David Cameron came frequently when he was an undergraduate and friend of our daughter Alexandra. These visits have yet to be commemorated arboreally."


 

 


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