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Tony Schilling

1935 - 2022
Transformer of Wakehurst Place
Tony receiving an Appreciation Award from The Plant Resources Dept in Nepal for his installation of the botanic garden there.

Antony David Schilling, who died aged 83, was born in Brighton in 1935. He was Curator of Wakehurst Place from 1967 to 1991. He oversaw huge developments there, and restored order, revolutionising its redevelopment with a phytogeographical approach, with renewed plantings after the devastating storm of 1987.

Following a horticultural apprenticeship at Hendon and Studentship at Cambridge University Botanic Garden (1957-1958) he became a student at Kew (1958-1961). This was followed by three years there as Gardens Supervisor, and a two-year secondment to the Royal Nepalese Government, working in the National Botanic Garden of Nepal (NBG) in Godavari. This was a start to a career that led to the importation of many plants, particularly from the Himalayas and China.

From Nepal he went to Wakehurst Place, and ran it for 23 years. But his work in Nepal continues to inspire. In the following post, from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Dr Mark Watson describes his influence:

“Tony’s groundbreaking work at the NBG is continued by a vibrant team of dedicated staff led by Dipak Lamichhane, and his legacy continues to grow, quite literally, with the trees and shrubs he collected that are now in research collections, and preserved plant specimens in herbaria. Today visitor numbers to NBG

have increased beyond all expectation. The Garden is a resource for schools, to teach about plant science, and a place for the residents of urbanised Kathmandu to relax, watch birds and enjoy plants.

Tony Schilling’s remarkable contribution to horticulture and botany in Nepal was recognised in 2019 by the award of a Certificate of Appreciation by the Government of Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources (Ministry of Forests and Environment) during the celebration of their 59th anniversary and 20th Plant Resources Day. Tony said: “I feel deeply touched that the Nepalese people have honoured me in this way, and I am incredibly gratified to know that what started as a small venture has now matured into a fully-fledged, internationally recognised botanic garden. As far as I know, it’s the only botanic garden in the world which has banned the use of plastic, showing the rest of the world where to follow.”

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) staff recently worked with Dipak and his team to create the Biodiversity Education Garden at the NBG. Tony’s advice and guidance about the garden at which he had worked 50 years earlier was invaluable. Crucially, he advised which Nepalese species would grow well and which would not.”

Dipak Lamichhane says: “Tony maintained his connections with Nepal, and was always eager to hear of developments at the National Botanic Garden (NBG), pressing us to send photographs whenever we visited Kathmandu. Tony was full of praise when he saw the improvements and new initiatives at the garden, and was particularly impressed by images of the long lines of neatly dressed school children waiting excitedly at the garden entrance. We fondly remember him for his generosity, kindness, wealth of knowledge, adventurous spirit, wicked sense of humour and cantankerous jibes."

Tony has had a career of committees - RHS Floral B; Joint Floral; Rhod and Camellia, Int Conifer Register; Kew Magazine Advisory; Hillier Arboretum Management and Standing Advisory Panel Meeting. He has published many papers and books, as well as having plants named after him. Two Hedichium cultivars were named after his children, Stephen and Susan.

In February 1991 he married Victoria Hallett, a dendrologist and Registrar of The Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI). She died exactly three years earlier than Tony, and her death led him to establish a bursary to support the Tree Register in her honour: many commemorative trees have been planted.

In retirement he became involved in horticultural and travel consultancy. His knowledge has been linked to his travels abroad, to Norway, Nepal, Rhodes, Crete, Cyprus, Turkey, Poland, USA, Australia, China and Bhutan and New Zealand.

Dipak Lamichanne adds: We fondly remember him for his generosity, kindness, wealth of knowledge, adventurous spirit, wicked sense of humour and cantankerous jibes. He lives on in the hundreds of ‘Schilling’ collections growing in gardens across the UK, and in the hearts of those he touched during his long and active life."