Obituary: Ron Sidwell

Ronald William Sidwell, gardener, teacher and writer: born 5 October 1909; married 1939 Marjorie Hickman (died 1977); died 19 April 1993.

RON SIDWELL's most significant horticultural work was in the identification of plum varieties by their stones.

It is hard now to imagine the importance of plums 50 years ago to the national psyche. With no imported fruits and a great diversity of homegrown plums, they were an essential wartime fruit. There was a rigid price- structure for plums based on four standards of quality for the different varieties. Unscrupulous growers would try to pass an inferior plum off for an superior one - say a Purple Egg for a Victoria. Sidwell realised that the stone acted as a fingerprint: thereafter he was sent plums to identify, and took on lucrative work as a court witness. He was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Lindley medal for his science work for agriculture. His collection of plum stones remains intact in old tobacco tins.

Ron Sidwell started his horticultural and garden work in the greenhouses of the publisher and newspaper proprietor the first Lord Iliffe at Allesley near Coventry in 1924, aged 14, producing flowers for the conservatory. One of four gardeners, by the age of 16 he was acting Head Gardener. He taught himself botany and horticulture from the shelves of the library in Coventry. In 1930 he went to work for the second Lord Aberconway at Bodnant in North Wales. He stayed only a short time because he was made to wear a hat and to doff it to the Head Gardener and to call him Sir. Instead he returned to Coventry, to work in his father's engineering company.

From 1935 for three years he worked in Edgbaston, where he did odd private gardening jobs and excelled as a vacuum cleaner salesman, before becoming Head Gardener in a house in Cropthorne in Worcestershire. In 1939 he married Marjorie Hickman and moved to Chippenham, in Wiltshire, but his plan to do a teacher-training course as a rural science teacher was interrupted by the outbreak of war. He studied for the National Diploma of Horticulture, which he gained in 1941 - the year he moved to Evesham, Worcestershire, the heart of plum-growing country, to spend the rest of the war as a District Horticulture Officer in 'War Ag' (the precursor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries). From the end of the war until 1954 he was a technical adviser to the Vale of Evesham growers co-operative Littleton and Badsey Growers - a position that was to establish his name and reputation amongst the market-gardeners of the vale, with his advise on what to plant where and which herbicides and pesticides to use.

In 1948, after studying the isobars and frost patterns of south Worcestershire, Sidwell bought a cottage in a hamlet on Bredon Hill called Paris, an ancient settlement around a good natural spring, where he judged severe frosts would be rare. For the next 40 years he developed a unique idiosyncratic garden from amongst the old fruit trees and wire-netting from hen coops, 'Bredon Springs'.

His aim in the early days was to plant as many plant families as possible, then he opted for the greatest geographical range, suffering a serious setback in the frosts of 1981/2 with the ruination of plants from New Zealand, Australia and California. There are no herbaceous borders in his acre and a half of garden, and no island beds; no path is straight: the whole is designed to be as wild as possible, planned to look as if it was not planned. He had a tolerant attitude to pests and weeds - hardly recognising the latter, judging the success of a garden by the wildlife it supports. He believed that the diversity of plants would discourage the build-up of pests with a limited host range.

From 1954 to 1960 Ron Sidwell was a lecturer at Pershore College of Horticulture, where he gave the first lecture and eventually became Vice- Principal. To his students he was an inspiration - they found that he knew something about everything and above all taught practical horticulture.

'Bredon Springs' was open to the public through the National Gardens Scheme but visitors with time to spare found the gardener as admirable as the garden. He was an independent thinker - way ahead of fashion on green issues, conservation and self- sufficiency. With his conversation he would offer home-made biscuits (he baked all his own bread after his wife's death in 1977, treating cooking as an extension of chemistry) or his own wine, made from unexpected garden plants. He shared his knowledge and wisdom of the natural world freely - never impatient at others' lack of knowledge where he had so much.

In 1981 he published his garden survey West Midland Gardens and just before his death he delivered the manuscript of a book on weeds to his publisher.

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
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role will cover all areas ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss