Obituary: John Treasure
Thursday 23 December 1993
THE NAME of Treasure is familiar to the gardening public through the famous nursery, Treasures of Tenbury, through the series of glamorous Gold Medal clematis exhibits staged for the Chelsea Flower Show and for Burford House Gardens, on the borders of Worcestershire and Shropshire, daily open to the public from early spring to autumn and a mecca for keen plantsmen. John Treasure, backed up by his two younger brothers, and the old Ludlow-based building firm Treasure and Sons, was the instigator of all this.
He was a Shropshire man, born in Church Stretton, schooled at Uppingham and studying architecture at Bristol University. Working in London for the Ministry of Works during the Second World War, he returned to the family firm, which specialises in the restoration of old houses, as their architect, soon after hostilities ended. He was living in a bungalow on the fringes of Tenbury Wells, with a pack of dachsunds and the friend, Ted Baker, who bred them, when I first met him in July 1952. Characteristically, John was hoeing; he loathed weeds (except in his lawns) and you rarely saw any in his borders.
We were soon visiting gardens together. In 1954, nearby Burford House was up for sale. The three Treasure brothers combined to buy it and John settled there for the rest of his life, bar the last two months. It is an early Georgian, brick building with considerable grounds running down to the River Teme and a tributary stream which joins it there. The characteristic red soil of this area has been enriched by periodic flooding (and the introduction of plenty of extra weed seeds).
Treasure designed a new garden. From upstairs windows the empty beds resembled the fluctuating shapes of amoebas. But not for long. His tastes were eclectic, he had a sharp eye for a good plant and he was immensely interested in planting effectively. Clematis were his and my special interest; we learnt about their propagation from cuttings together (grafting had been the normal commercial practice till very recently). He grew and displayed clematis extremely well, often using them as much as ground cover as to climb over and through shrubs.
This led to the establishment, adjacent to the garden, of the nursery Treasures of Tenbury, from which a great many home-raised clematis were sold, as well as a wide range of shrubs and herbaceous plants. After Ted Baker died, the companion of the rest of Treasure's life until the last year was Johnny Haylock, who predeceased him by only a short while. Haylock had an artistic eye and it was he who staged the award- winning clematis exhibits at Chelsea. Treasure's services to horticulture were such that the RHS awarded him in 1983 the Veitch Memorial Medal (instituted in 1870) for the advancement of science and of horticultural practice.
Latterly, Treasure was in considerable pain from his back (a chronic weakness in hands-on gardeners) and he zoomed silently around his garden in an electrically propelled chair (this was the only driving he ever practised). Uninterested in religion, he was a man of the highest principles and rectitude. Always hardworking himself, he expected others to be so, also, and was the kind of gardener in the habit of leaning on his spade to chat with visitors he referred to as having 'the disease'. He was the warmest of friends, generous and with a great sense of fun.
When Johnny Haylock died, John found living alone pretty intolerable and he moved into his cousin Raymond Treasure's establishment, where he quickly settled down. I chatted with him on the phone only last week and he sounded really relaxed and happy.
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