Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Gardener's Memorial: Ted Darrah

I heard today that Ted Darrah had died.

He had been the longtime head gardener at Christ Church, Oxford. When I met him he was retired but still practicing his craft each week at Elsfield, a tiny, quiet village a few miles and a few centuries removed. I was documenting the history of the Manor's gardens as one of my essay projects for the garden history course.

He seemed to genuinely enjoy working with me on the history of the garden he knew so well. We met for tea in Marks and Spencer's and I showed him all the historical documents I'd uncovered and promised to send him copies. Shortly after our meeting, I received a note and a hand-drawn map in the mail, marking the locations of all the garden's trees that were old enough to be of historical significance. It was nice, for once, to communicate with someone that didn't have email. I still have both the map and the note.

He gave me the wonderful gift of a private tour of the gardens at Christ Church. Tourists aren't allowed in; they stand around peering through the locked gates and wondering. But with a satisfied grin Ted produced the key and held open the door. I thought at the time that I should take a picture of him opening that magic gate, but it might embarrass him, and the moment passed. I wish now I had.

He showed me the Dean's garden, and Bishop Pocock's tree, and the door through which Charles I passed in secret. Ted had planted many of the plants in the garden himself, and sniffed at the poor state of their maintenance and the pruning of the shrubberies. Things had been different when he was gardener.

A few days before I left England, I posted my report and the long-promised historical documents to him, along with a note of thanks. I'd like to think that it added interest to what proved to be the last few months of his life.

Thanks, Ted, and Godspeed.

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