An obituary by Tim Ingram first published in our Winter 2019 Newsletter.
With the passing of David Way the Kent Group has lost one of its founding and most distinguished members. David contributed so much in so many ways to horticulture in Kent, not only within the gardening community and HPS but in his professional capacity working on fruit growing at East Malling Research Station.
My memories go back to regular Kent Group committee meetings held in his and Anke’s lovely house and garden at Hunton. Here we planned many successful meetings and events for the Kent HPS, notably a Summer Weekend in June 1992 at which Graham Gough, then at Washfield Nursery, gave the afterdinner speech: ‘And now for something completely different’. Sixteen members’ gardens were open to HPS visitors who came from across the whole country. Among the displays at the hotel in Ashford we made one of umbellifers, and it was David who suggested I write about the family for the HPS Booklet series, which has encouraged my interest ever since. His interest in penstemons led to ‘The Gardener’s Guide to Penstemons’ written in collaboration with Peter James, and a talk in July 1995 from the President of the American Penstemon Society, Dale Lindgren, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Nebraska, who was visiting the UK. The excellent cultivar of Penstemon digitalis, ‘Husker Red’, was one of the new American selections mentioned. And who in more recent years will not have visited David and Anke’s garden, Southover, in February to view the ever-growing collection of snowdrops and other winter flowers, which captivate any committed gardener eventually, however resistant they may be to galanthophilia. Several very good selections came to us from David and Anke, including the bold early Galanthus ‘Reverend Hailstone’ and distinctive long-pedicelled G. ’Percy Picton’, and of course G. ‘Hunton Giant’.
David always studied and collected plants with that detailed scientific and perceptive eye that underlined his professional life and training at Cambridge University Botanic Garden and RHS Wisley. He made use of these same qualities as Chairman of the Kent HPS, while his unique connections with gardeners across the Channel led to the organisation of trips abroad for the Group. His knowledge and eye for detail inspired confidence in all of us around him and must have contributed to much of the success and growth of the Group from its founding in 1988.
After David and Anke moved away from Kent we still met regularly at events such as the Harlow Early Spring Alpine Garden Society Show, meetings of the Fritillaria Group, and most particularly at the ‘Ultimate Snowdrop Sale’ at Myddelton House every January. David’s interest in plants remained undimmed and was expressed in articles written in the Journal of the AGS, HPS publications and elsewhere. That lifetime of study and enthusiasm about the world of plants lies at the heart of any garden and any society of gardeners, and we are lucky indeed that David shared this with us within the Kent HPS.
Galanthus ‘Hunton Giant’ in the garden at Southover
We send our deepest condolences and kindest wishes to Anke and David’s family, and retain fond and abiding memories of a good friend and teacher, both personally and of our family of Kentish gardeners.
Some memories of David from Kent Group members.
I was privileged to know David and, almost from the time I first met him, I believe he recognised my appetite for learning about plants, and was keen to teach me – not in a scholarly way, although I’m sure he was more than capable of doing so, but in a much more subtle way. He would show and discuss plants as we wandered around his and Anke’s magical garden at Hunton and, of course, when I had admired a certain plant, a specimen seemed to appear the next time we met. This is where my interest in sanguisorba was born and encouraged, as he ensured that I had large chunks of their various varieties. He would have been pleased that over 20 years later this has led to me being an assessor for the RHS sanguisorba trials.
We shared a common sense of humour too, although this was tested one January. He, as many know, was a committed galanthophile and I a dedicated galanthophobe, so he sent me a snowdrop card every Christmas! I responded one year, following a remark he’d made that the snowdrops were very early, by agreeing, saying that I’d had loads come through, but it had taken all my time to strim them off! His look of horror was a picture, until I reassured him that I hadn’t, and his composure returned … until I said I’d just sprayed them with Roundup!
He was great fun, and a wonderful mentor; I will miss him enormously, but his passing reminds me of the value of the HPS, which is the members, and their shared knowledge.
For many years when they lived at Southover, David and Anke Way were relative neighbours to us at Timbers. At the beginning I was slightly in awe of David, given his long-standing membership of the HPS and his wealth of plant knowledge. That didn’t last long though, thanks to his joy in sharing information with me and the warm welcome I always received on visiting Southover – Anke seemed to have an endless supply of lemon drizzle cake in the freezer. He started me on my journey of galanthus appreciation and collecting, and I am endlessly grateful to him for that.
David and Anke Way with other Kent Group members on the Norfolk Garden Tour in 2014
Visiting a garden with David was always a privilege. Every plant was discussed in minute detail and I can recall one time when he and Anke spent an afternoon here at Timbers. Three hours later and we hadn’t even started looking at the wildflower meadows. He then insisted on descending into our valley to see the orchids and the grasses, notwithstanding the fact that by then he could not walk long distances and used an electric wheelchair.
The wheelchair with David in it sped on down into the valley at great speed with myself, Anke and Karin Proudfoot running to keep up with him. He was determined to see all the wildflowers and we then spent another delightful couple of hours discussing the merits of Timothy grass, fescues and pyramidal orchids. The only slight problem we had was when we had to negotiate the steep slope back into the garden. The battery on the wheelchair decided it had had enough so Karin and I, with some difficulty, had to push him back up the slope.
I loved him for his determination, his endless enthusiasm, his passion for plants and his generous nature. I will miss him.
Like so many Kent Group members, I owe a lot to both David and Anke. It was Anke who first invited me to join the committee, back in 2000 – I’m still here, and still enjoying it!
I will always be grateful to David for introducing me to the esoteric delights of galanthophilia. Our house is surrounded by drifts of naturalised snowdrops, which I just regarded as an attractive landscape feature – an amorphous mass rather than thousands of individuals. As interest in snowdrops started to take off, and after seeing the snowdrops at Southover, I tentatively asked David and Anke if they might like to cast an eye over ours in case they could spot anything of interest. We spent an instructive morning going round the garden, David’s eagle eye picking out the many varying flower forms, heights and flowering times, and I started to look at the snowdrops afresh, realising for the first time that there was more to them than just a white swathe. Although they took away a few bulbs for trialling, sadly none of them proved sufficiently distinct to be named, but in the meantime my enthusiasm had been kindled, and I started to collect named varieties, beginning with a generous clump of Galanthus ‘Hunton Giant’, given to me by David on that visit; he had found it in the garden of The Old Rectory in Hunton, and thought it an appropriate present for our Old Rectory.
My snowdrop collection includes so many happy memories of David, and I now enjoy being able to share them with a wider public by opening for the NGS – something I could never have imagined myself doing before joining the HPS and Kent Group, and meeting the irreplaceable and greatly missed David Way.