Tuesday 20 December 2011

Kim Blaxland 1941-2011

Viola pedata, Carol Lim's garden, Pennsylvania, April 2009
Kim Blaxland, who has died aged 70, was one of the foremost experts on the genus Viola, developing her interest as an amateur to a high degree of competence, publishing technical papers as well as horticultural articles, and with her expertise sought-after by others. She travelled all over the world to see and study violas in their native habitats: one of the highlights of her botanical career was her discovery of a new species of Viola in Turkey and her publication of it as Viola dirimliensis Blaxland, in no less than the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society (2004).

Kim Blaxland
(img. C. Blaxland)
I got to know Kim when she joined an Alpine Garden Society Tour of the Eastern Cape, led by Dave McDonald and myself. She had come out to South Africa early especially to see Viola decumbens, the only species in the Western Cape, which she saw at the Fernkloof Nature Reserve near Hermanus.  Her quest attracted the attention of the local media, and an article about her visit is available online. On the tour she was huge fun and extremely enthusiastic about all sorts of plants. In the small town of Nieuwoudtville, where accommodation is limited (tourists only go there in flower season) she and I shared an apartment loaned by - we presumed - an elderly lady. It was a 'Marie Celeste'experience as it looked as if the owner had gone out by the back door as we came in. In common with others in similar situations we found that the toilet seat was covered by a knitted cover, an amenity we found rather repellant, so promptly took it off.

We met up once again, in Pennsylvania, where she lived with her husband Chris, a vet, having emigrated from Australia (Eucalyptus blaxlandii is named for a connection of the family) - they remained very much Aussies at heart, with their family living there. Sadly she developed pancreatic cancer and fought it for several years but lost the battle about ten days ago. She was one of those people I should have loved to have known better and seen more of, and regret that that opportunity has now passed.

Viola riviniana, Colesbourne, April 2011


  1. Kim was so supportive of me and my nursery. She never made anyone feel like she had superior knowledge (which she most definitively did) but was always willing to give advice when asked. She helped me to identify several native violets so I could add them to my catalogue. She also recommended visiting Shenks Ferry Wildlife Preserve so strongly that I marked down the exact date she told me to go and went even though it was my busiest time of year. She will be sadly missed here in PA.

  2. What a nice tribute to what sounds like a fascinating lady.

  3. This lady, I realise, as I read your blog, is the one I have been waiting to meet - and now I never shall. If I had bothered to enquire about violet lovers, I might have come across her, and what a wealth of information and knowledge she could have given me.... With you, I mourn her passing - I shall go now and contemplate my v. small violet collection and think of her. This strengthens my resolve to get out there and meet the people who know so very much more than I ever will!

  4. I am getting to know Kim through her garden, a powerful voice of hers. For her, no rock was too heavy, no tree too tall, no slope too steep and clearly, no flower too small.
    I'm fortunate that she has allowed me into her world. I look forward to the spring, a special spring...in Kim's garden.


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