The Annual Dinner 2022

President Elect Graham Heywood BEM

It is often said the anticipation of an event is greater than the event itself. Not so in the case of the Kew Guild Dinner of 26th May 2022. On this occasion we were greatly honoured by the presence of our much loved and greatly admired Patron Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra. Certainly, there had been much excitement by all those who attended the Dinner on this occasion as we progressed through the closing months of 2021 onwards towards the big day and receiving updates on the forthcoming event from our former President and Guild Dinner organiser Tony Overland.

From arranging on-site visits at Kew to help determine the best venue within the gardens, to interviewing prospective caterers for the event right through to the exacting protocol requirements of the Palace, Tony executed all the necessary requirements to ensure one of the most memorable gatherings of Guild members and guests since princess Alexandra last joined us. That was at the Guild Dinner in 1992 on the occasion of the Guild Centenary held at the Natural History Museum. It truly was, as our President Chris Kidd attested a masterclass in organisation. We do not forget of course the input from our past President and master (should that be mistress?) of ceremonies; our most unflappable and genial Jean Griffin. Our grateful thanks also go to Jan Overland and Sparkle Ward who greeted guests with both glamour and professionalism and generally kept order in the vicinity of the reception area. Many thanks also to others who, behind the scenes provided a much valuable and valued input to the organisation both before and on the day. (Tony will now be stepping down from organising future Kew Guild Dinners, but he will no doubt be ready to advise his successor and share his considerable knowledge and skills of organising such events).

As is now customary, once signed in, guests proceeded to the inner sanctum of the Cambridge Cottage with a view of the garden (some back garden!). There was much delight amongst members and guests as they met and renewed acquaintances from both the past and present.

The photographs taken on the night, or at least a selection of them appear in the Journal of events for 2022.

At the appointed time of arrival, we were joined by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra. Needless to say, there was a buzz of excitement followed immediately by a most fitting round of handclapping as our patron entered the room, where she proceeded to meet and chat with most of the guests.

On the entry of the Princess into the dining room, members stood and gave a round of applause before resuming to their seats.

There followed a series of toasts with a suitably spaced interval between each.

Richard Deverell, Director of The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, gave a speech followed by student representative, Jennifer Wright proposing a toast to absent friends.

After a short interval there followed the presentations. Her Royal Highness had graciously consented to present the Awards.

 The first award was to the Ward family. The President introduced the award and related how important trustees of the Guild felt it important to recognise such dedication with something special. This award comprised free lifetime membership of the Kew Guild and the presentation of a medal recognising a collective 39 years editing the Kew Guild Journals. A truly astonishing commitment on the part of Richard Ward, Wiena Ward, Alexandra Ward and Sparkle Ward. The Ward family are the bedrock on which the Guild has progressed throughout a great many years and Richard is rightly regarded as one of the Guild’s grandees.

The second award was to Allan Hart and this award was introduced by President Elect Graham Heywood. The following is but a precis of Graham’s introduction on behalf of Allan, the full script of which can be found in the Appendix to this Appraisal. Allan entered Kew as a student in 1956 and then went to the Grotto, the residential Headquarters of the then Institute of Parks and Recreation Administration near Reading, a path well-trodden by many Kew Students. There followed a distinguished career in Landscape Architecture around the World, and which included commissions in London, Libya, Hong Kong and Cyprus. Not only has Allan Hart had a distinguished career in Landscape Architecture he has left an indelible mark in the annals of the Kew Guild. Together with Anthony Dunball, Brian Lowe and Dorothy Paterson Allan established the Awards Scheme in 1974, which committee he chaired for six years and continued to offer guidance and support to Chris Kidd our current Chairman of the Awards Committee. Allan designed the student vegetable plots at Kew and generously waived his professional fees.

To round off the presentations the George Brown Award was presented to Bill Bessler; the awardee having been nominated by Allan Hart. The George Brown Award is given each year to a member of the Guild in memory of the late George Brown, who was assistant curator during the nineteen fifties and sixties. George Brown devoted much time, beyond the call of duty, teaching gardening skills to students. The award recognises George’s own qualities in communications achieved with supreme diplomacy.

Bill Besler on leaving Kew progressed to become an Associate member of the Landscape Institute and in his professional career he was involved in working as a landscape consultant in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East.

Bill has been a member of the Guild Since 1967, taking an active part in all its aspects including financial support of the Awards Scheme. Bill organised a guild tour of the gardens of Southern Spain, which was enjoyed by twenty members.

At times his considerable diplomatic skills were called into action. The presentation of the George Brown Award is a very fitting recognition of Bill’s love of and involvement with and support of the Guild.

On the departure of Her Royal Highness, It was time for the raffle in aid of the students. Mrs Eira Heywood, the President Elect’s wife drew the winning tickets and our MC Jean Griffin called out the numbers. It was heartening to find the raffle had raised in excess of £400.

Thank you very much to all who participated and gave so generously.

In conclusion I quote here the words of Albert Camus (1913-60) who said of friends: Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

The Kew Guild is many things to many people but above all it is a fellowship of brotherhood and sisterhood.