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Verey [née Sandilands], Rosemary Isabel Bairdlocked

(1918–2001)
  • Penelope Hobhouse

Rosemary Isabel Baird Verey (1918–2001)

by Howard Sooley, 1996

© Howard Sooley; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

Verey [née Sandilands], Rosemary Isabel Baird (1918–2001), garden designer and writer, was born at 3 Mansion Row, Brompton, Gillingham, Kent, on 21 December 1918, the youngest of four children of Prescott Sandilands (1878–1956), a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Marine light infantry, and his wife, Gladys Baird, née Murton. She was educated at Eversley School in Folkestone and at University College, London, where she read mathematics and economics. Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she left without completing her degree. On 21 October 1939 she married the architectural historian David Cecil Wynter Verey (1912/13–1984), son of Cecil Henry Verey, rector of Buckland with Laverton, Gloucestershire. There were four children: Charles (b. 1940), Christopher (b. 1942), Veronica (b. 1947), and Davina (b. 1949); the two girls were educated at home by their mother until they were eleven.

In 1951 Rosemary Verey and her husband moved into the family home, the late seventeenth-century Barnsley House, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Her main interests until then had been teaching her children, hunting, and horses, but at Barnsley gardening soon became a consuming passion. Within a few years she had, with David Verey's help, transformed the conventional 1930s pleasure garden into a series of themed garden areas held together by a tight architectural structure of alleys, vistas (embellished with decorative statues and artefacts), paved walks, and contrasting open spaces. Influenced by the arts and crafts style of many neighbouring Cotswold gardens, she extended her range through her knowledge of and interest in garden history. But her garden was never just an academic exercise; above all it conveyed vibrancy and movement with a serenity of composition which appealed to all the senses. Fragrance, flower, leaf colour, and tactile sweet-smelling herbs combined with architectural elements to soothe and comfort visitors. From sunlight, a pillared laburnum walk, under-planted with hostas and alliums, led to a fern-lined frog fountain (designed by Simon Verity) in dark shade, while an avenue of pleached limes was framed with carefully chosen colour borders. Irish yews played sentinel roles along the pathway to the garden door sheltering ground-hugging helianthemums. A classical temple, glimpsed through a grand water gate, was acquired from Fairford Park in 1962, and was reflected in a formal pool surrounded with an eclectic assembly of tall soaring plants and large-leaved flatter-growing varieties.

Verey's interest in garden history, and her own gradually acquired collection of rare gardening books, encouraged the layout of a formal knot garden (1975) and a patterned herb garden near the kitchen. Both features enabled her to indulge her taste for patterns and logic, and were an inspiration to many new gardeners. The famous potager, inspired by a visit to Villandry in 1975, was laid out in the old vegetable garden. Here, straight and diagonal lines quartered a series of four squares. Apples were trained into goblets, and lettuces and cabbages were arranged artistically with strawberries and chives. Artichokes gave stature and an ordered background to cabbages and cauliflowers. Barnsley was first opened to the public for one day a week in the early 1970s but later it opened more frequently, in response to the pressure of demand. It became a mecca for both sophisticated and aspiring horticulturists. Photographers, such as Andrew Lawson and Jerry Harpur, spent many hours there, leaving plentiful mementoes of its most glorious moments.

Rosemary Verey devoted her life to the creation of beauty, the colour sequences in her garden reflecting her educated taste. She had a capacity for friendship and communication that transcended all barriers; generous in her sharing of both knowledge and plants, she thoroughly enjoyed people, and was much revered on both sides of the Atlantic. After her husband's death in 1984 she spent many weeks each year in the United States, designing, lecturing, encouraging young landscape architects by her example, and often judging at regional flower shows. She was also a teacher through her writings. As well as contributing to numerous journals throughout her gardening life, she wrote many important books, most notably The Englishwoman's Garden (1980), The Scented Garden (1981), The Englishman's Garden (1982), The American Woman's Garden (1983), Classic Garden Design (1984), The Garden in Winter (1988), Rosemary Verey's Garden Plans (1993), and Rosemary Verey's Making of a Garden (1995).

Verey was also in much demand as a designer, working in the British Isles, Europe, and the United States until her death. Among her many clients were the prince of Wales, the marquess of Bute, Sir Elton John, Princess Michael of Kent, the New York Botanical Garden, and many others, often with much more modest spaces. Although she preferred designs based on straight lines and geometry, her gardens also overflowed with colourful planting and had a luxuriant yet disciplined charm seldom achieved by the highly trained academic landscape architects among her contemporaries. Her attention to detail ensured good management.

In 1994 Rosemary Verey received the Garden Writers' Guild lifetime achievement award, and in 1999 the Royal Horticultural Society's Victoria medal of honour, the highest award offered to horticulturists in Great Britain. She was appointed OBE in 1996, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of South Carolina in 1994. She died on 31 May 2001 at the General Hospital, Cheltenham, from a chest infection, having survived a severe fall in which she broke her hip in the previous year. She was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's in Barnsley village, beside her husband and next to the walls of her beloved garden. A memorial service was held in the church of St John the Baptist in Cirencester, at which Sir Roy Strong gave the address. Her garden plans were left to the New York Botanical Garden and her manuscripts and archives to her family. Her son Charles kept her horticultural library.

Sources

  • The Times (2 June 2001)
  • Daily Telegraph (2 June 2001)
  • The Guardian (6 June 2001)
  • The Independent (7 June 2001)
  • The Times (9 June 2001)
  • The Scotsman (12 June 2001)
  • Financial Times (16 June 2001)
  • Daily Telegraph (16 June 2001)
  • Evening Standard (4 July 2001)
  • WW (2001)
  • personal knowledge (2005)
  • private information (2005) [Charles Verey]
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

Film

  • BFINA, documentary footage

Sound

  • BL NSA, documentary recording

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1985, repro. in The Times (2 June 2001)
  • G. Howard, photograph, 1989, Camera Press, London
  • photograph, 1995, Camera Press, London
  • H. Sooley, C-type colour print, 1996, NPG [see illus.]
  • H. Sooley, photograph, 1996, repro. in The Independent
  • L. Bobbé, bromide fibre print, 1998, NPG
  • M. Charity, photograph, 1998, Camera Press, London
  • photograph, repro. in Daily Telegraph (2 June 2001)
  • photograph, repro. in The Guardian
  • photograph, repro. in Evening Standard

Wealth at Death

£342,857: probate, 19 Dec 2001, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

(1849–)