Obituary: Jude Moraes

By ANTHONY SYMONDSON

Judith Anne St John (Jude Moraes), landscape gardener, born 30 December 1943, married 1992 Larry Hansen (one son by Dom Moraes 1966), died London 4 January 1993.

JUDE MORAES was one of the most original and sensitive landscape gardeners practising in recent years. She did not take up professional gardening until 1979 when she formed the practice Jude the Gardener. Before that, her life was rich in diversified experience, taking her into many contexts and the far corners of the earth.

The only daughter of Wing Commander JR St John and his wife, Pat, she grew up on her grandfather's farm in Buckinghamshire. From girlhood, she was eager to cast aside convention. As a drama student at Lamda in 1961, she met the Indian poet Dom Moraes when she walked into a Chelsea pub, saw him, took his hand and said: 'I am Judith.' They made a life together, which is described in his autobiography My Father's Son, and she took his name. Money was short and they moved to Bas Alpes in France in 1965, to eke out a penurious existence, relieved by the arrival of George and Elspeth Barker, who stayed with them for six months, bringing money with them. Their son, Heffalump Francis Ramsay, was born the following year. In 1968 Moraes made a television documentary, One Pair of Eyes, which presented an Indian's view of Britain, in which Jude features conspicuously.

Together they went to Nepal to travel and photograph. Jude Moraes was mesmerised and repelled by the Indian subcontinent. In her photography she applied severe ethical standards, avoiding scenes of human misery and degradation. They went on to Afghanistan and Bhutan, to visit the king and queen of the remote kingdom of Sikkim, where she fell ill and was treated by the court physician and vet.

Jude left Dom Moraes in 1969, moving with her son to lodgings in Islington. On a walk in north-east London while looking for better accommodation, she came upon De Beauvoir Town. A romantic, secluded, but shabby early Victorian district of Hackney, laid out on picturesque principles, she fell in love with it. She took a house in De Beauvoir Square, filled it with lodgers, and began her rich association with this quarter of London. The house became an expression of her personality, full of delightful objects and pictures, most of which she snapped up for trifles, exuding comfort and welcome. Requisitioning adjoining gardens of decaying houses teeming with multi-occupation, she raised organic vegetables, kept chickens and bees, frequently to the consternation of the estate's agents, with whom she had a guarded relationship.

In 1977 Jude Moraes's true vocation began. For two years she took a course at Oaklands Horticultural College, St Albans, obtaining a national diploma in 1979. She came second in her year, despite having to maintain her son and house and battle with her total incomprehension of machinery which forced her to pass the technical part of her exams by rote.

Initially working in the Royal Parks, she set up independently with Carol Laws with only a bicycle, secateurs and an advertisement in the Hampstead and Highgate Express. As Jude the Gardener, she gradually extended her team from two to twelve until she formed a new partnership in 1985 with the town planner Larry Hansen.

Jude created many private gardens which were distinctive in that she designed them to reflect the personalities of their owners. She seriously took into account their architectural setting, which she expressed through superb plantsmanship and an unerring sense of the quality of good workmanship in garden ornaments. For railings and metalwork she worked in association with the blacksmiths Stuart Hill and Giuseppe Lund. She had a genius for designing rustic garden furniture and summer houses, influenced by the mid-Victorian garden writer Shirley Hibberd.

By far the most enterprising and beautiful examples were built in her own garden in De Beauvoir Square. She brought out the best in her team. They became her friends and between jobs they took spontaneous excursions to Sissinghurst and other notable English gardens.

In 1986 she became gardening correspondent on a new woman's magazine, Prima, and began to broadcast on Woman's Hour. Journalism did not easily suit her. She felt she had to write down to her readers and began to dislike deadlines but, despite her reservations and occasional frustration, a great deal of her spirit and unique insight was conveyed.

In De Beauvoir Town, her greatest achievement was the foundation in 1978 of the De Beauvoir Gardeners' Club. By this time the district had become a middle-class enclave with a diminishing indigenous life. The club was no ordinary association. In addition to its annual flower and produce show in the vicarage garden, she organised expert lectures which included garden history. As it became established, visits to foreign gardens were arranged, as far afield as France, Holland and Ireland. What was remarkable about the club was the way it became a major instrument of social cohesion, uniting the indigenous residents with new arrivals, neither side experiencing any hostility.

Jude Moraes had a strong social conscience and was anxious to work on community gardening in poor districts. She made plans with Hansen for several schemes in Hackney but they rarely progressed very far, due to shortage of money and the adverse influence of bureaucracy and political correctness.

Jude had the glowing beauty, colouring and joie de vivre of a Renoir. She not only exuded generosity, goodness and integrity, she loved and transmitted life, giving her enormous body of friends a powerful sense of their own value and self-worth. She loved dancing and night-life as much as gardening and travel. Jude was in many ways a born Bohemian and free spirit. She was a competitor in the jewellery designer Andrew Logan's original Alternative Miss World Contest, and continued to compete regularly. Not long ago she held the audience silent and spellbound, by appearing as the Spirit of the New Age, in a gossamer dress, blown about by a battery-operated fan, carrying a wooden heart - an effect ruined by an impatient drag queen who made her fall off the cat-walk.

In August last year, Jude married Larry Hansen in the Danish church in Regent's Park, a wedding as memorable for its music and wide diversity of guests as for the weekend spent afterwards in a country-house hotel. In November a persistent cough was diagnosed as lung cancer; chemotherapy was prescribed. While undergoing this treatment Jude suddenly and unexpectedly died. With appropriateness she is buried in the old part of Highgate Cemetery, high on the terrace, within the shadow of the great Cedar of Lebanon.

(Photograph omitted)

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