The following post was first published in July 2019. It has been updated on receipt of the sad news of Tony Schilling’s death on 23 November 2022. Dr Mark Watson and Dipak Lamichanne remember him fondly in the Epilogue below and our thoughts are with Tony’s family.
Tony Schilling was Curator of Wakehurst Place, part of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, from 1967 to 1991. He oversaw huge developments there, and restored order with renewed plantings after the devastating storm of 1987. Prior to this appointment, he spent two years in the National Botanic Garden of Nepal (NBG) in Godavari, and was instrumental in the establishment of that garden which had opened in 1962. His ground breaking 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.
Tony Schilling’s remarkable contribution to horticulture and botany in Nepal has recently been recognised 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.”
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 to us as horticulturists. We visited his home in Ullapool and he told us about the soil, the growth rates and pest and plant problems he encountered at Godavari, which lies 16 km outside the capital of Nepal, at the foot of the highest mountain in the Kathmandu Valley. He had some entertaining reminiscences about leopards in his house and affectionate accounts of staff long gone. He also gave us a historical and horticultural perspective on a garden that we were coming to know as well as our own. All this information was invaluable to us as we made a successful space for Nepal’s citizens. Crucially, he advised which Nepalese species would grow well and which would not. All gardens have successes and failures when they are first establishing and species choice is the key to success. 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 has undertaken numerous botanical expeditions in Nepal and other mountainous regions of the world. At RBGE we see reminders of his collections on the labels of plants every day, in all four gardens. He wrote an entertaining and informative account of his life and horticultural adventures in a five-part series ‘The Mountains are My Garden’ in Hortus 114 – 118, The Bryansground Press and these are well worth a read. Copies are available in the RBGE Library and from Hortus A Gardening Journal.
A Profile of NBG including more information on Tony Schilling’s input there and the Biodiversity Education Garden is available to read in Sibbaldia The International Journal of Botanic Garden Horticulture 15 9–30, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It can be found online here: Garden Profile: National Botanic Garden of Nepal
Tony’s many friends were greatly saddened by the news of his passing on 23 November. This date is poignantly the same on which his devoted wife Vicky died three years. Vicki’s death deeply affected Tony, and he established a bursary to support the Tree Register (TROBI) in her honour. Through his actions many commemorative trees were planted. 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.
Tony wrote an entertaining five-part account of his life ‘The Mountains are My Garden’ in Hortus (numbers 114-118, 2015-2016 see above), starting with him falling out of his pram into a garden flowerbed as an infant, and ending with his retirement in Ullapool, Western Scotland, where he grew his beloved plants in the garden at Dogwood. Tony died peacefully with his family in Inverness after a severe stroke. 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.Dr Mark Watson, Head of Major Floras, RBGE
After reading the article Garden Profile: National Botanic Garden of Nepal in Sibbaldia (2017) (see above), Tony sent me a letter along with historic photographs of NBG. The photographs he sent were a great source of inspiration for garden improvements. The Rock Garden, Orchid house, Cactus house, Ornamental plant house and Water fountain are unique to Nepal, and they are the most popular features of NBG. Thousands of visitors including students, researchers and nature lovers enjoy them each year. They were designed by Tony and constructed under his supervision, and we consider them to be an amazing and beautiful gift from him. His contributions to NBG demonstrate his extraordinary skills and love of plants and his actions motivate us to keep developing the Garden. Long live Tony.From Dipak Lamichanne Head Garden Officer, NBG, Nepal