Bill Malecki

National Trust gardens adviser


Andrew William Malecki, gardener: born Horsforth, Yorkshire 6 December 1961; Head Gardener, Biddulph Grange 1992-96; Gardens Adviser, National Trust 1996-2006; (one daughter); died Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 13 April 2006.

In search of immortality, some people write books, create works of art or commission buildings. Bill Malecki's achievements will continue to grow and mature, even after those who were lucky enough to know him are dead and gone. Through his career as gardener and subsequently gardens adviser for the National Trust, he made an indelible mark on many of Britain's, and therefore the world's, greatest gardens.

As head gardener from 1992 at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire, the most significant of all mid-19th-century gardens, he saw through one of the trust's most ambitious and exciting garden restorations and wrote the conservation plan. He came to Biddulph in his early thirties from Bodnant in North Wales, a garden of immense scope with an unsurpassed plant collection, where he had risen from ex-student gardener to garden foreman, responsible for more than 20 gardeners by the age of 27. On being asked at interview why he should want to move from one of the world's greatest gardens to the smaller-scale constraints of restoring Biddulph, his answer was that it was "like moving from being leader of a great orchestra to becoming musical director of an early music ensemble".

This apt simile revealed classical music as one of his deepest interests and relaxations. His love of the arts generally, together with an interest in history and historic buildings, made the National Trust a natural home for his talents. He was an expert horticulturist and plantsman and developed a deep understanding of historic gardens and the subtle complexities of their restoration and continuous conservation.

After five years as head gardener and property manager restoring the garden at Biddulph Grange, in 1996 he was recruited as one of the trust's gardens advisers based at Cirencester, the first to come "through the ranks" rather than from outside the organisation. He took responsibility for regular advice and guidance in gardens and landscape parks in five of 15 regions and, following the trust's major reorganisation, was responsible for horticultural advice at no fewer than 70 gardens in the South, South-West and West Midlands - including Tyntesfield, Hidcote, Stourhead, Killerton, Knightshayes, Lanhydrock, Trelissick and Trengwainton.

He took these great gardens and all the challenges of reorganisation in his stride, but the relentless travelling and the ever-increasing demands of the job were a heavy burden. His thoughtful, intelligent and consensual approach won him unreserved praise: he possessed that precious ability to listen and then to draw the best out of every encounter. He confessed his frustrations mainly towards unnecessary bureaucracy and what he called "macho management".

Born in Horsforth, just outside Leeds, to Polish refugee parents, and with three older sisters, Bill Malecki did well at St Mary's School in Menston. Intent on a career in practical gardening, he took the decision to follow a three-year National Diploma course in horticulture (including a "sandwich year" at Buckingham Place) at Askham Bryan College near York rather than opt for a Higher Diploma or degree course, for which he would have been entirely qualified.

I first met him in the early 1980s while, as educational assessor, I was interviewing a selection of final-year students. In a potentially tense situation he put me at my ease and, taking advantage of my position as head of gardens for the National Trust, sought advice on a career in historic gardens. We never lost touch.

His death from a brain tumour came as he was at the height of his career. With his partner Alasdair Crawford, the "love of his life", he enjoyed 12 happy years. In little more than half a lifetime he achieved so much because he seemed to value, use and enjoy every minute of every day.

John Sales

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