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.

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

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?