In a quiet corner of the Copse in our Edinburgh Garden sits a bench in memory of Mary Stewart, overlooking rhododendrons and the odd towering Magnolia. Its inscription reads:
Mary Katharine Stewart (1923-2012)
RBGE Friends Committee Member and Garden Guide
If you often wonder about the people that are remembered on the varying commemorations within the Garden, you’d forgive me for asking, “Who was Mary?” Working for the Garden and given her close connections to the organisation, I was well placed to find out a little bit more about her.
Mary’s love of gardening took off in the 1970s when she attended a City & Guilds horticulture course at Cupar, Fife. Here she attended one day per week over a period of two years, choosing the subject of rhododendrons for a written composition. Her love for this genus continued well into the 1980s, when she becomes one of the first members of the Scottish Rhododendron Society. From hereon she planted and maintained an impressive collection of over 200 of these floriferous plants at her family garden in Balerno, to the west of Edinburgh, which occasionally opened to the public in return for donations to the Friends of RBGE.
It was her knowledge of rhododendrons and history that drew her towards RBGE – understandable for an organisation dating back to 1670 hosting the largest Rhododendron collection outside of China. Here she became actively involved with the Friends Committee where she was respected for her upright character and integrity, not to mention her horticultural knowledge. Mary then became a founding member of the Garden Guides (pictured), who still provide tours around the Garden today. Having kept up her French, Mary was occasionally called on to guide some of our European cousins through the Garden.
Sally Heron, a fellow founding member of the Garden Guides, reminisces, “We remember her being the Garden Guide who always seemed to draw the short straw as far as the weather was concerned. She was often dressed in waterproofs, more frequently than the rest of us and bravely led guided tours in some atrocious weather.”
So it is apt that Mary is now remembered by friends and family amongst the rhododendrons, amongst their majesty and beauty, in a Garden which she knew and loved. The flowers you see when sitting on this bench brought her so much joy in life and, whilst remembering her, so they shall to those she left behind.
Click here if you are interested in remembering a loved one in the Garden.