Obituary: Alan Hardy

BRITISH HORTICULTURE, ad-mired as it is throughout the world, would never have achieved such distinction without its tradition of dedicated amateur plantsmen, devoting nearly every free moment to their consuming passion. Alan Hardy was just such a figure.

Inheriting the 1,500-acre Sandling estate in Kent from his father, he acquired a tremendous depth of knowledge of trees and shrubs, especially the rhododendrons that thrived in the 27-acre woodland garden developed by his grandfather, Laurence Hardy, from the turn of the century.

He was a true fanatic about both species rhododendrons and hybrids, some of which he bred himself. His flowers won many awards despite the fact that Sandling, exposed as it is above the cliffs near Folkestone, is one of the coldest and windiest spots in south-east England and as such not easy to garden. From the age of 30 he was invited to sit on many of the Royal Horticultural Society's committees and became a leading figure in the rhododendron world, acting as a judge at shows. He was the founder chairman of the Kent Garden Trust and in 1993 was awarded the RHS's coveted Victoria Medal of Honour, which can be held at any one time by only 63 people - the number of years that Queen Victoria reigned.

But his interests were by no means confined to the one plant: he loved gardening in all its variety. A lifelong love of daffodils was sparked when, as a boy of seven, he was given his first bulb by Lionel Richardson, the renowned Irish breeder. Hardy would eventually become a breeder himself and a respected authority on the flower, always ready to lavish praise and sound advice on this and all aspects of gardening.

His principal occupation was running the estate and its farm: his pedigree cattle and sheep, like his flowers, often won prizes. Aware from an early age that he was destined to take over the estate, he prepared himself in typically thorough fashion. After joining the Coldstream Guards towards the end of the Second World War, he worked briefly on a dairy farm, then gained qualifications in agriculture and animal husbandry at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.

Soon afterwards he lost a lung through tuberculosis. This setback meant, among other things, that he was never able to go on plant- hunting trips to distant parts of the world, although he always felt that he was with the collectors in spirit and could scarcely wait for their return to inspect and discuss what they had found.

His never lost his enthusiasm and courage - qualities he needed in abundance in 1987 when the October hurricane felled more than 800 trees in the woodland garden, destroying the canopy that shielded the under-story of acid-loving shrubs. It seemed at first that all the family's work in building the garden over 90 years had been wiped out overnight, but he and his wife Carolyn, whom he married in 1953, were determined to clear the mess and restore the plantings.

The fallen timber had to be manhandled out of the garden and the resulting bonfire continued day and night for two and a half years. Today the garden is well on the way to restoration, partly through the great generosity of friends in donating new trees and shrubs, in the true spirit of gardening camaraderie that Hardy so valued and exemplified.

Carolyn Hardy, too, is well known in the world of horticulture and is a vice-president and former chairman of the National Gardens Scheme: Sandling was one of the original gardens opened to visitors for charity when the scheme was launched in 1927. The couple made a splendid team in all aspects of their lives. They had two daughters, and Hardy was gratified that both have followed in their parents' footsteps, one managing the estate farm with her husband, the other working in Sandling's walled garden.

He had an engaging, teasing sense of humour. Among his fellow enthusiasts he would introduce himself as "the gardener from Siberia" - a reference to the notorious weather conditions at Sandling. But he would never have considered leaving it. The estate was the focus of his life's activities and achievements, and he loved it with an enduring intensity.

Gerald Alan Hardy, plantsman: born Sandling, Kent 4 April 1926; married 1953 Carolyn Evanson (two daughters); died 4 February 1999.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers