Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1122137439

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: ROBINSON; Helen Florence Chantler-24/9/2004-UK
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 17:50:39 +0100

Helen Robinson
(Filed: 09/10/2004)
The Daily Telegraph & the

Helen Robinson, who died on September 24 aged 85, was one of the most
admired and accomplished amateur gardeners of her time.

Together with her husband Dick, she created the Hyde Hall garden, near
Chelmsford in Essex. Through the gift of the trust they founded for its
preservation, Hyde Hall became the nucleus of the Royal Horticultural
Society's East Anglian Centre.

It had already for several decades been a place of pilgrimage for keen
amateur gardeners who came to learn, to admire the vast palette of plants
grown there, and to enjoy the pervasive atmosphere of intense pleasure in
the craft of gardening. Visitors were always welcomed by the Robinsons, who
worked on the ground constantly and were invariably ready to share their
skills and horticultural erudition.

Helen Robinson, the daughter of an agricultural auctioneer, was born Helen
Florence Chantler at Rochford, Essex, on September 1 1919. After leaving
school she studied at the Froebel Institute at Roehampton, and followed a
career as a teacher for 10 years.

After marrying Richard Robinson, who trained as a doctor before becoming an
agricultural scientist, she spent a year at his family's fruit farms in
Trinidad. There she became increasingly fascinated by the exotic vegetation
of the region.

On their return to England in the mid-1950s, Robinson acquired the Hyde Hall
estate, and the couple's gardening began with clearing the neglected
environs of the farm house. They learned as they went, and their knowledge,
skills and zest grew as they developed the site to its eventual 27 acres.

Travelling the length and breadth of the country by motor caravan, they
acquired a large circle of gardening friends as they visited countless
gardens and nurseries.

Their enterprise and service to the craft was marked by several awards from
the Royal Horticultural Society.

Besides serving on several of the Society's committees, Helen Robinson's
experience with hardy perennial plants led to her chairmanship of the team
judging the trials of these plants held at the Wisley Garden. In 1989 she
was awarded the Gold Veitch Memorial Medal. This was followed, in 1995, with
the Society's highest accolade, the Victoria Medal of Honour, limited to 63
holders at any one time. Later she was created one of the Society's honorary
fellows, a distinction that is only rarely bestowed.

Helen Robinson was a dedicated servant of the Royal National Rose Society
for more than 20 years, in 1973 joining the council and its committee which
recommends the Society's internationally sought awards for newly-bred roses.
She was also chairman of the committee overseeing the care of the Rose
Society's display garden in Hertfordshire, playing a prominent part in its

When, in the mid-1980s, the couple felt their powers were declining, they
suggested to the trust that the garden should be handed over to the Royal
Horticultural Society with a gift of several hundred acres of farmland; the
garden is now being extended still further, while outlying areas are being
planted to re-create the ancient woodland that existed there centuries ago.

Helen Robinson's husband predeceased her. There were no children.

Fred Whitsey writes: When I first went to Hyde Hall garden to take part in
an outdoor garden and was shown round by Helen and Dick Robinson, I had the
recurring thought that these must be two of the most enthusiastic gardeners
in the land. There seemed no aspect of horticulture that they did not
explore and master. There were huge beds of roses, a lengthy pergola
cascading with climbers, an iris garden, planted woodlands overhung by tree
magnolias, pools, rock gardens and broad herbaceous borders. A tall
greenhouse was devoted to subtropical plants; another to raising pot plants;
and a smaller one to growing tricky alpine plants.

The rooms of the house overflowed with foliage plants, and the window above
the kitchen sink looked into a conservatory rich with flowering pot plants.
Then I was led to an upper room where hundreds of African violets were grown
under fluorescent tubes.

Though the tour of unfolding wonders was conducted with diffidence rather
than pride, Helen's standards of garden husbandry were clearly those of the
exacting head gardeners of the glory days of the great walled gardens.
Indeed, she declared she had learned her gardening by watching the
television programmes on gardening by Percy Thrower, himself an alumnus of
the Royal Gardens at Windsor.

Her term as chairman of the Rose Society's Garden Management Committee is
recalled as a time when The Garden of the Rose was seen at its finest.

By character modest and reticent, Helen Robinson was the reverse of a
typical committee lady. I can think of no one among the gardening luminaries
of our time who has been held in greater affection and esteem.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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