Sunday 6 March 2016

Harry Dewey, 1921-2016

Harry Dewey, June 2006
A brief notice in the Washington Post has announced the death of Harry Dewey on 17 February. A native of South Carolina, his career was as a librarian in universities and colleges in the Washington DC area, where he lived in Beltsville. He was interested in alpines and was a member of the Potomac Valley Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS), within which he was mildly active. He was early to perceive the power of the internet for communication, and in 1995 he founded the online rock garden society Alpine-L, based on the Listserv system.

Alpine-L was, I believe, the first online plant group, the precursor of today's thriving online community of plantspeople who now use Facebook groups, or for example, the Scottish Rock Garden Club's forum. It functioned entirely by emails being multiplied to its members - there was no journal and no (formal) meetings ever occurred, but it brought together enthusiasts from across the world and a flourishing and friendly group soon developed. It flourished, and was friendly largely due to benign but firm moderation by Harry, whose admonitions under the pseudonym Miss Emaily Post were generally promptly acted upon. I joined in late 1995, and the diversion of the correspondence certainly helped me get through the completion of my thesis. Through it I made contact with many people in American horticulture and enabled me to build strong connections there, notably with Bobby Ward, the horticultural author and current Executive Secretary of NARGS, who consulted on my first book The Gardener's Atlas, and remains a great friend. Another was Nina Lambert, from Ithaca, NY, with whom I exchanged plants in those less restrictive days, reusing a padded envelope for numerous missives across the Atlantic. Her orange celandine, Ficaria verna Aurantiaca Group, was much admired by garden visitors today.

I met Harry in Washington DC in 2006, and his first comment was 'the bloom has faded', but we had a lovely evening at the home of fellow rock gardener Sasha Borkovec, in humorous good company. I've never forgotten Sasha's wall built of newspapers, a remarkably long-lasting and effective construction.In December 2007 Harry had a severe stroke and faded from view, just as Alpine-L has faded as other platforms have become available. It still functions, just, hosted by the University of Utrecht Botanic Garden. Traffic is almost non-existent, but the archive of past posts is maintained, a mine of information, if only one had time to delve into it.


  1. Thank you for such a poignant memoriam for a real pioneer. The newspaper walls are so original.

  2. Excellent, John … many thanks for this fine tribute to a wonderful man ad a true innovator.

  3. What a lovely tribute. I remember Harry well from Alpine-L. He was generous and funny. And I'm pretty sure his birthday was February 29th.

  4. Anyone has good tips for garden soil for growing chilies ?

  5. I met Harry onl once or twice in snail time and he more than lived up to my expectations from Alpine-L. Your tribute is spot on (as you Brits say!). It feels like a hundred years ago rather than just a quarter century--I have dipped back into those Alpine-L archives once or twice. We could use a spare lifetime or two, that's for sure. I have to admit--I'm a bit shocked by your marriage counseling function: Harry would have great fun in his Cat's seat reading the Junia and Clare's missives! The Internet continues to mystify and surprise...

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