C. Z. Guest

Gardening columnist, fashion icon and emblem of American high society

Lucy Douglas "C.Z." Cochrane, socialite and gardening writer: born Boston, Massachusetts 19 February 1920; married 1947 Winston Guest (died 1982; one son, one daughter); died Old Westbury, New York 8 November 2003.

Style, C.Z. Guest once observed, "is about surviving, about having been through a lot and making it look easy". Tribulation, it is fair to say, was not the characteristic most commonly associated with her gilded existence. But style she possessed in yachtloads.

Through her rich and varied life - as skilled horsewoman, gardening columnist, fashion icon and noted beauty, and friend or relative to everyone from Truman Capote and Winston Churchill to the British monarchy - style was the constant. If New York society had a queen in the middle and late 20th century, it was her.

She was born Lucy Cochrane, the second of five children of Alexander Cochrane, a wealthy Boston investment banker. To her siblings however, she was "Sissy", a moniker that quickly contracted to "C.Z.". Her course in life was quickly set. She came out in 1937, and two years later was voted "glamour girl" of the Massachusetts North Shore, and for a few years toyed with showbusiness - if only, as she later remarked, "to be a successful enough actress to get myself thrown out of the Social Register". By her own admission, her thespian talent was zero.

Guest's looks however were more than noteworthy. She was an American classic along the lines of Grace Kelly, blonde, patrician and martini-cool. Her beauty, the writer Jill Gerston once noted,

is indigenous to socially registered enclaves like Palm Beach and Southampton, a sporty, outdoorsy look that eschews make-up, hairspray and anything trendy. She has an outspoken, coolly self-assured manner and a throaty, well-modulated voice with a trace of a British accent.

The British aspect extended well beyond her looks. Her husband was Winston Frederick Churchill Guest - not only an international polo star and heir to the Phipps steel fortune, but also second cousin to the greatest scion of Britain's greatest political dynasty. Later the couple became close friends with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who became godparents to their two children.

By the time of her marriage in 1947, C.Z. already seemed to know everybody. The ceremony took place at Ernest Hemingway's house in Cuba, with the author serving as best man. For more than three decades, until Winston Guest's death in 1982, she travelled the world with her husband, with a place by right in the great social salons of the day.

In her latter years she gained a new and different kind of celebrity, as a gardening columnist. From her youth, Guest had been interested in gardening, and to the Windsors she would dispense advice on matters horticultural. But after a riding accident in 1976, she turned to writing about gardening in earnest.

A column for the New York Post (a rather downmarket outlet for so upmarket a lady) began in 1978. She wrote simply but authoritatively - a style evident in her best-selling First Garden of 1987, complete with illustrations by her "very dear friend" Cecil Beaton and an introduction by another "dear, dear friend", the author Truman Capote. There followed a children's book, Tiny Green Thumbs (2000).

At its height, the column was syndicated in 350 papers across the United States. Over the years, C.Z. Guest on gardening developed into a minor industry, with its own website and branded accessories for the gardener who wanted a dash of elegance as well.

"A cool, vanilla lady," was how Capote described her, an image re-inforced in 1982 when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine, as emblem of American high society. The article sealed Guest into the national subconscious, part of an untouchable, eternal horsey set, clad in jodhpurs, patrolling a beautiful Long Island estate on shimmering summer afternoons, trailing handsome hunting dogs in her wake.

Despite her death, the family's traditions are in good hands. Her daughter Cornelia in 1982 was anointed "Deb of the Year" by Life magazine, and "Deb of the Decade" four years later. Following in her mother's footsteps, Cornelia is an accomplished horsewoman, a minor celebrity and an indefatigable socialiser in her own right.

Rupert Cornwell