Obituary: George Clive

Mary Keen
Friday 23 April 1999 23:02

GEORGE CLIVE was that rare being, a countryman and an intellectual.

His father, who came from a long line of soldiers (which included Clive of India), was killed in action in 1943, when his son was only two years old. From his mother's side, he inherited the remarkable Pakenham intellect. He belonged to an extended family of distinguished writers and historians.

This coupling of inherited traits - acute intelligence combined with a stoic sense of duty - was to remain with him all his life. While still at Eton he began to take control of the once derelict family estate in Herefordshire. With the help of Ian Howie, who was his farm manager for over 30 years, Whitfield became a model estate. Their management, guided by both conservation and innovation, was remarkably successful. It is rare to find 1,200 acres of dedicated woodland containing a champion oak tree, and an unrivalled stand of Californian Redwoods. Rarer still is a farm where the diversification is so imaginative that the crops include fields of parsley, squirrel-poisoning hoppers with dormouse-defeating doors and hundreds of Himalayan Blue poppies.

Although Clive's first love was forestry, he was equally able to focus on wild flowers. In a short paper written about conservation practice at Whitfield, he describes an embargo on late summer mowing which ensured the survival of a colony of Ladies' Tresses orchids on the lawn. In the same paper is a meticulous record of the increase in flowering spikes of the Marsh Helleborine, from six in 1983, to 210 in 1992.

All the work at Whitfield was done for the benefit of the estate and of the people whose lives were involved in it. Providing jobs was a prime concern, and the place became a focal point for many people's lives. Local events, from literary gatherings at the Hay Festival, to country fairs, church fetes, timber growers, international dendrologists and charities of all kinds, homed in on Whitfield.

The lakes and follies that Clive designed and built at Whitfield with his own hands, and the trees that he planted, made a garden worthy of the picturesque landscape that surrounded it. As a gardener, his knowledge was formidable. He judged trees and shrubs for the Royal Horticultural Society (he could spot a Magnolia hypoleuca from 200 paces), and at home he always had an eye for the best plant.

His good-mannered modesty meant that he spoke rarely at meetings, but when he did, it was worth listening. As a member of the National Trust's Estates and Gardens Panels, his advice was invaluable. He enormously enjoyed his role as Chairman of the Herefordshire branch of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, attending meetings about bamboos or ferns with the same gusto as he brought to everything he did.

A fast mover, he was hard to keep a pace with, and his conversation was hardly pedestrian. The perpetual quest for knowledge was conducted at a cracking pace. Blessed with an encyclopaedic mind, he never confined it to country life, but read voraciously, novels, biographies, poetry, newspapers and any printed matter, absorbing information like a magnet attracts iron filings. He spent the two days before he died learning the Latin names of all the diseases on the ward at St Thomas'.

Clive never married, but for the last 15 years he shared his life with the painter Penny Graham, who supported him in all his interests and enthusiasms. Together they enjoyed theatres, art galleries, travel, gardens and the friends who were regularly and generously entertained at Whitfield.

A host of people who regarded George Clive as a tower of strength was shocked by the suddenness of his death, from lung cancer. He seemed to have more energy than a teenager, and his immunity to physical discomfort was legendary. The man who could linger in the sub-zero temperatures of the Kew Seed Bank at Wakehurst was never one to complain of feeling ill.

George Meysey Clive, gardener and landowner: born 29 December 1942; died London 17 April 1999.

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