OBITUARY : Andrew Thomas

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The Independent Online
Andrew Thomas was a man of many talents - harpsichord-making, moth-breeding and gardening among them.

Raised at Hurley in Berkshire - in a house built for the Victorian actress Irene Vanbrugh, Oscar Wilde's first Miss Fairfax - he grew up with a keen visual sense and a slightly wayward interest in everything. As a teenager he looked set to become a professional sportsman - being a scratch golfer at 16 and an assistant pro at Berkhamsted. Henry Cotton wanted him for a new course in Portugal, but his parents objected.

Andrew, who had a deep musicality, then switched to making beautifully crafted and painted harpsichords. They were sold through the shop of his father, Michael Thomas, the musician and early-instrument maker, in Chiltern Street, central London. One harpsichord went to Trinity College of Music, in London. All were noted for their big booming sounds - prompting their creator to name them after battleships. "Mighty Mo" (after the battleship Missouri), is now berthed in Belgium.

Thomas found his true vocation when transforming a small rubbish tip in Peckham, south London, into a magical garden. Private commissions and work in Regent's Park followed.

Then, having passed the Royal Horticultural Society's general exam with a credit, he became the steward of Edwardes Square, in Kensington, west London, the job of his dreams. An avid seed collector, he would drive across the country like a man possessed in pursuit of a rare seedling. Not the sort of man to be confined by a given budget, he planned rare and costly plantings for his square - to be subsidised by his marvellous skills as a propagator. Salvia atrocyanaea towered eight feet tall in his greenhouse; the uncommon likes of maraeas tithonea and cestrum parquii were raised for sale at open days. But he gained most joy from broad borders of nicotiana. At night they drew scores of the hawk moths which were another of his passions.

Breeding these fugitive insects at home in Peckham, for later release in the wild, he caused havoc one Boxing Day when a squadron of death's head hawk moths was awoken by a burst of festive central heating. They buzzed through the house, sending visitors into hysterics. Once a child's playpen had been upturned for winter quarters, the giant moths were sustained on a diet of diluted honey.

Andrew Thomas could be irascible and even impossible, but the warmth of his humour and interests was hugely infectious. His potential was greater still.

Andrew Lachlan Thomas, moth-breeder, gardener: born High Wycombe 8 February 1952; married 1976 Isabelle Mazzitelli (one son, one daughter); died London 15 February 1995.

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