Tony Schilling, horticulturist, receives recognition from the Government of Nepal

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.

Orchid House in the Special Garden at NBG showing the Temple Houses in the background. These were designed and built by Tony Schilling in 1966

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.”

Tony Schilling with his Certificate of Appreciation

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.

NBG and RBGE teams at the opening of the Biodiversity Education Garden.

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.

Many of Tony Schilling’s collections can be found in RBGE gardens

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  

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  1. Chris Mathias

    I knew Tony Schilling when I first started to work in Sussex. Loved n Balcombe and used to walk across to Wakehurst to see hi. What he did not know about rhodedendrums was not worth knowing
    I would be interested to make contact again, if he is so inclined, in which case would appreciate it if you could send me his email address
    My email address is below
    Many thanks
    Chris Mathias

  2. Jill Jeffery

    Tony is my cousin/god parent. I haven’t seen him for goodness knows how long. I remember us ( my mum, dad and younger brother) visiting him in Wakehurst Place where he lived. I often wonder how he is. Please, if possible, send my regards. Jill.

  3. Hi there
    When I was a chid I lived at Wakehurst Place Farm and we knew Tony for several years. I remember many adventures around the botanical gardens and even once convincing Tony (well at least I thought that I did 😉 ) there were bears in the forest. I would love to make contact with Tony. Please can you pass my details onto him.

  4. James Balcombe

    Tony was a great help to me and friend to me when I was setting out as a gardener/horticulturist some 25years ago!
    Remember some very happy time both in Sussex especially “Shergolds” and his wonderful home up in Ullapool.
    Tony is truly a “gardener of the mountains”

    James Balcombe (Beijing China)

  5. Robert Szembek

    I worked as herdsman on Home Farm, Wakehurst Place in 1968/69. During that time, I knew Tony well. We had a shared interest in classical music. He would recount some of his experiences in Nepal. He had a great sense of humour and a sharp wit, though this was always restrained when he was with the garden staff. He said he had an “image” to maintain!
    I remember an occasion when Patsy, (the farm donkey) escaped from her paddock one night and proceeded to the plant nursery, and bit the tops off some of the carefully nurtured specimens growing there. I can not recall how much damage was done, but understandably Tony was not amused.

    I left Wakehurst and returned to Devon very early in the New Year of 1970 to fulfil my ambition of getting a dairy farm of my own. Over 50 years later, I am still here, though we no longer milk cows.

    I regret that I never kept in touch with Tony, but it is good to see he has received well deserved recognition for a life times work in his specialist field.

    Please pass my very best wishes on to him, and my email address as well if appropriate.

    Robert Szembek

  6. Kate Hughes

    Hello Robert,
    Tony does not use email and I have passed your message on to him.

  7. Steven Schilling

    Hi Kate .. my name is Elaine and I’m the partner of Tony’s son Steve Schilling . We have loved reading the above comments and would happily pass on any requests. Tony is an avid writer (as you say a technophobe) and I’m sure he would certainly the old fashioned way. We speak daily so happy to pass on any information.

    • Isabel Wooller

      Hi, Kate
      We have recently moved to Westmeston and were surprised to hear this was the former home of Tony Schilling, a renowned gardener and botanist. My husband and I are keen gardeners and would love to hear something about the garden he designed and planted here – as it is sadly overgrown and neglected and we are working hard to bring it back to life.
      Of course he will be busy with many things but it would be lovely to hear what plants he grew in the back garden , and also in the west-facing front garden . We admire greatly a yellow tree peony at the back – and a red one at the front.
      Thank you and best wishes
      Isabel Wooller

  8. Simon Milham

    Hi Kate,
    As a boy, I used to live at Pondfield Cottages and Steven was a playmate of mine.
    I seem to remember planting a tree with him at Wakehurst after school one day. It was tipping down with rain, but we both had our picture taken and it was printed in the Mid Sussex Times. We could not have been more than about five or six at the time.
    Please give him my best regards – would be lovely to catch up with him.

  9. Hello.

    We currently hold the National Collection of Eryngium, and we gather from a couple of sources (most recently Mike Grant, former editor of The Plantsman/Plant Review), that Tony might be able to shed some light on the introduction of Eryngium horridum to the UK.

    If so, we’d love to hear from him as the horticultural history of the genus is a topic we’re keenly researching!

    Hope it’s possible to pass this message on.

    Thanks and best wishes.

    Brian & Kathy Pike

  10. Pam Bloomfield

    I was the Typist at Wakehurst Place from 1979-1990 and part of my job was typing Tony’s field notes on his return from his trips to Nepal. Please send my regards to Tony.

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