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George Ernest Brown

1917 - 1980
George Ernest Brown

George Ernest Brown was a visionary who curated the arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1956 to 1977. He recognised the importance of communication, diplomacy, and public engagement as drivers of positive change in society and explored his insight through Kew's Mutual Improvement Society (est. 1871) and its networking offshoot, the Kew Guild.

George Ernest Brown was born in Jinga, Uganda, on 19th March 1917, his father being an Old Kewite (1903) (Vice-President 1963-65), but he spent most of his boyhood days in the fruit growing area of Kent.

After attending the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, George started work at a nursery specialising in herbaceous plants— Messrs. Gibson and Amos, Ltd., Cranleigh. Two years later he moved to Winterfold House, Hertwood Common, a garden which grew many rare and tender trees and shrubs gathered by the owner, Mr. Armytage Moore, who contributed to most of the famous plant hunting expeditions.

The next move two years later in November 1936, was to Holmbury House, Holmbury St. Mary, a home of the Guinness family where bedding, decorative displays in the mansion, and fruit outside and under glass were specialities. His early studies were through a correspondence course for the R.H.S. Senior Examination and in 1938 he gained a 1st Class Certificate.

Although accepted for a 2-year studentship at Kew this never materialised, for the war intervened. George joined up on February, 1940, and served with the Queen's Royal Regiment for six years, the greater portion of this time being spent overseas. He successfully took the N.D.H. Intermediate Examination upon re-entry into civilian life, gaining the N.D.H. Final a year later whilst at Kew, which he entered in July 1946, under the Ex-Servicemen's 1-Year Trainee Scheme.

During September 1947, George left Kew to take up the post of Lecturer at Swanley, later the Kent Horticultural Institute. It was here that he met Miss Mary Webber, a student at Swanley who was to become his wife. George returned to Kew on 2nd January 1956, to take up the post of Assistant Curator, following Sydney Pearce in the Arboretum.

The Browns with their daughter Sally and son Robert took up residence in the old cottage by Kew Palace. George is a founder member of the Arboricultural Association and took part in the production of their earlier booklets. Writing is one of his hobbies, expressed also in his Editorship of the Kew Guild Journal and in his book, The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers, published by Faber and Faber. With his wife he enjoys gardening, cactus growing and camping, with a general appreciation of the countryside.