Thursday, 30 December 2010

Harry Hay 1922-2010

Harry Hay and Graham Duncan, May 2005
One of the omissions from this Diary this year was any mention of the death in June of Harry Hay, the great but reclusive plantsman from Surrey. The grapevine failed, for some reason, and I did not receive the news until the end of August.

Last year, Harry was nominated to receive the Herbert Medal, presented by the International Bulb Soociety to someone who has done meritorious work on bulbous plants, and I was asked to write a testimonial in support. This is it, modified very slightly, offered in tribute to the memory of a great gardener:

"For much of my life the name Harry Hay has been heard in reverential tones, usually in the context of a good plant that had been received from him, or of some prized specimen known to be in his collection. A series of pictures in books by Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips, captioned ‘at Harry Hay’s,’ only added to the mystique.

I finally got to meet him a few years ago, and on several occasions have had the privilege of being shown round his collection, housed in a series of greenhouses and polytunnels as well as in the open ground. It lived up to expectations, with every inch of space crowded with rarity after rarity, all flourishing in carefully chosen conditions. Needless to say, I also joined the group who could exhibit a choice plant and say proudly, ‘it came from Harry Hay.’

Harry’s influence on plantsmanship is not to be measured in erudite publications or public displays. It has been the best sort of influence, derived from the art and craft of growing bulbs, maintaining them in cultivation with meticulous records, and distributing them with sage advice to grateful but carefully chosen recipients. In this way he has helped a broad generation of gardeners, improving their collections and horticultural practice alike."

Galanthus elwesii 'Yvonne Hay',
named by Harry in honour of his wife

The Herbert Medal was duly awarded to Harry and was presented not long before his death. A great article about his life and plantsmanship appeared in the September 2009 issue of The Plantsman.

1 comment:

  1. A nice tribute. I have never heard of Harry Hay but I move in the very amateur gardening circles, I presume he was a fascinating person to meet.

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