My oldest schoolfriend, Lawrence Banks, died in June. His funeral took place in the village church at Kington in Herefordshire, on the Welsh border; a packed church and more attending online as befits a man of strong character and wide influence. He was a major figure in gardening circles, as much for his extraordinary ability as a plantsman as for leadership of many horticultural bodies, among them as treasurer of the RHS for many years.
Memories merge when we remember our friends. Was the rather chaotic and inky schoolboy the same as the senior City banker and intellectual powerhouse of international bodies and charities? We proved it when we were together and quoted the same words from the schoolmasters we shared. Two masters at Rugby licked us into being competent writers; I’ll name them: Jim Willans and Tim Tosswill. We went to different universities but met up again in the context of gardening. I would go to stay at the Banks family’s estate, Hergest Croft, where I remember his father, Dick, inheritor of England’s finest private arboretum, as a tall, benign presence who won a schoolboy’s admiration. Times spent with him among his trees made a deep mark on me, and inspired me to start looking at and writing about trees. It was an honour I still treasure to pay a tribute at his funeral in the church where we just remembered his son.
The Bankses, father and son, and grandfathers before them, were passionate and practical plantsmen. Dirty fingernails run in the family. Edward, who inherits the collection, shares the unusual family trait. There are now some 5,000 species and varieties of trees and shrubs at Hergest Croft, many of them the biggest of their kind in the country – and they are widely propagated and generously shared.
We had to follow Lawrence’s funeral online, sadly. I was not surprised by the choices of my own favourite aria. Ombra mai fu, from Handel’s Serse, or the lesson read by his widow Elizabeth, who was the first woman and first landscape architect to be president of the RHS. Ecclesiastes 3 contains the words ‘A time to plant and a time to pluck up’. The service ended with the supreme hymn, Now thank we all our God.
Trad wrote about Hergest Croft on October 18, 2010, September 3, 2013 and May 9, 2019,
all available to read online at tradsdiary.com