"The Major" of Trebah Garden dies leaving lasting legacy in Cornwall landscape

The decorated war veteran who restored and revived Trebah Garden in Cornwall, Major James Hibbert, has died, aged 96.

Major Hibbert with his wife Eira in Trebah Garden
Major Hibbert with his wife Eira in Trebah Garden

Major Hibbert joined the British Army before World War Two and left in 1947, serving in France, north Africa, Italy, Holland and Germany, where he negotiated a ceasefire of German naval and armed Forces in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark with Germany’s Admiral Doenitz.

At one point he led a daring escape from Nazi custody, was sheltered by Dutch civilians and ended up working with the Dutch Resistance.

He received the Military Cross in 1945 and was presented with the Great Seal of the City of Kiel and also received a commendation from the British Chief of General Staff for his services at Kiel in 2010.

He came to Trebah Gardens in 1981 after retiring from a career managing the family wine and spirits business CG Hibberts. Although he planned to spend his golden years drinking gin and enjoying his estate’s views he soon discovered he had bought one of the original gardens created by the Fox family and he spent the next six years clearing and replanting the garden, opening it to the public in 1987.

Within three years, visitor numbers reached 50,000 and he donated it to the Trebah Garden Trust.  But even after handing it over he continued to oversee the garden, said current head gardener Darren Dickey, who has worked at Trebah for 24 years.

He said: "He was a very strong-willed man like a lot of owners, there were plants you knew to steer clear of," he said. "He liked exotic planting but didn’t like fussy flowers, like camellias, he liked his bold statement plants – tree ferns, bamboo and particularly his gunnera plantation.

"His vision really was to make the garden accessible to the public. He was very much a family man and his grandchildren grew up playing in the garden, he wanted to continue that family-friendly atmosphere."

Dickey said it was comfort to him when he heard the sad news to learn The Major had died at home, on 12 October.

"He passed away with a smile on his face." he said.


Major Hibbert's funeral will take place on 3 November. Trebah will close on 3 November for the funeral.

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