Obituary: Richard Robinson

Richard Robinson was one of the most distinguished gardeners of his generation. Over a period of 30 years he created with his wife the remarkable garden at Hyde Hall in Essex and in 1993 he gave this, through a trust, to the Royal Horticultural Society, of which he was made an Honorary Fellow the same year.

After studying Medicine at Cambridge, Robinson began his professional life as a pathologist, and was involved in early research into salmonella for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. However this life did not suit his restless, agrarian temperament and he abandoned the laboratory for the open air, to begin a new career as a farmer. Within three years, in 1955, he and his second wife Helen Chantler had bought the Hyde Hall estate.

Their gardening began as a means of making some order out of an unprepossessing, desiccated and wind-swept site. The methodical and systematic approach of the scientist informed all of his horticultural activities and he began by making a thorough soil analysis of the whole garden to determine what improvements should be made before planting. In one area of especially glutinous clay he added ammonium sulphate and peat so as to increase the acidity and make the soil suitable for rhododendrons.

Soon, the development of the garden began to take precedence over activities on the farm and in 1974 the farm was let so that the Robinsons could concentrate on what had now become the main focus of their energy and enthusiasm. They shared much of the practical work and went everywhere together, collecting and exchanging plants, and making friends with a wide circle of eminent gardeners. Hyde Hall became home to a vast range of plants including the national collections of Malus (ornamental crab apples) and Viburnum and an impressive array of immaculately pruned roses; a plantsman's garden of the highest calibre.

In addition to his horticultural talents, Robinson was a fine photographer, and for many years the official photographer of the RHS. He bought the Harry Smith photographic library and expanded this remarkable collection into one of the world's largest and most accessible archives of plant photography.

Robinson was a modest and quiet philanthropist who frequently worked behind the scenes to help his friends. When Bill Mackenzie (immortalised by the clematis that bears his name) was in need of a hip replacement, Robinson arranged for it to be done by the top specialist. He was similarly a thoughtful and generous employer and made his principal employees in the photographic library directors of the company.

By the early 1990s, the future of the garden, which now extended to over 25 acres, was becoming an increasing concern to the Robinsons and their friends on the garden trust that had been set up some 10 years earlier. Fortuitously, this was at the same time as the Royal Horticultural Society, under Robin Herbert's enlightened leadership, was looking to expand its sphere of activity beyond London and the south. Hyde Hall was ideally located, well endowed and offered huge scope for the future, with virtually unlimited room for expansion.

Soon after the RHS took over, the Robinsons moved out of Hyde Hall and ceased to be involved in the garden. Although this was entirely as planned by them, it seems ironic that in his last years Robinson was not able to sit back and survey the ground that he and his wife had transformed.

The RHS now have an ambitious masterplan in place for the garden, even though the pace of development is more modest than originally envisaged. Thanks to the Robinsons' generosity there is the opportunity at Hyde Hall to expand the kernel of their creation into a garden of international significance. This would be a fitting tribute to a remarkable gardening partnership.

Tom Stuart-Smith

Richard Henry Martin Robinson, gardener and horticultural photographer: born Hendon, Middlesex 21 March 1917; twice married (one son, and one daughter deceased); died 27 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions