Graham Stuart Thomas

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Graham Stuart Thomas OBE
Hypericum kouytchense (4855158432).jpg
This plant was originally a cutting from the garden of the famous botanical author Graham Stuart Thomas ... an amazing man!
Born Graham Stuart Thomas
(1909-04-13)13 April 1909
Died 17 April 2003(2003-04-17) (aged 94)
Nationality British
Occupation Horticulturalist, garden designer, author, artist
Known for Roses, garden design, garden writing
Awards Victoria Medal of Honour, Veitch Memorial Medal

Graham Stuart Thomas OBE (3 April 1909 – 17 April 2003), was an English horticulturalist and garden designer, best known for his work with garden roses, his restoration and stewardship of over 100 National Trust gardens and for writing 19 books on gardening, many of which remain classics today.

In his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Clair Martin, rose curator of Huntington Botanical Gardens said: "Thomas set about preserving the heritage of old roses when many of them were on the verge of extinction".[1]

Early life[edit]

Thomas was born in Cambridge into a family of keen amateur gardeners. He is said to have developed his interest in plants at the age of six, when he was given a fuchsia and. by the age of eight. he had decided to make gardening his career.[2][3] At 17, he volunteered at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which enabled him to also attend university lectures on horticulture and botany. These lectures were his only formal education in the field of horticulture.[1]

Early career[edit]

Thomas worked first at Six Hills Nursery in Stevenage, under alpine expert Clarence Elliott. In 1931, just four years later, he became foreman at T. Hilling & Co (Hillings), a 300-acre nursery near Chobham, Surrey.[2][1]

It was while working there that Thomas met the formidable and revered garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, then aged 88, when he wrote her a letter and she invited him for a cup of tea and a chat about gardening.[3] She became a mentor to the young gardener, passing on her theories of garden design as an art. It was around this time that Thomas began to collect old shrub and climbing rose varieties, many of which had fallen out of favour because they only flowered once during the season.[4][2]

Thomas became partner at Sunningdale Nurseries – then the most revered nursery in the country – with Jim Russell. The partners became known for planting schemes that focused on form and foliage, as much as flowers. At Sunningdale, Thomas established his entire collection of roses.[2]

Thomas's first important publication about roses was a booklet called The Manual of Shrub Roses, describing all the varieties, with advice on cultivation. In the foreword he described the booklet's aim as: "To bring forth these lovely things from retirement." His classic books on roses – Old Shrub Roses (1955), Shrub Roses Of Today (1962) and Climbing Roses Old And New (1965) followed and cemented his influence. They also provided much-needed information about the history and extent of the genus at a time when old varieties were being overshadowed by their repeat flowering and showier cousins hybrid teas and floribundas.[2]

Mottisfont Abbey – Graham Stuart Thomas's "masterpiece"

Work with the National Trust[edit]

Thomas became the Trust's gardens adviser in 1955.[2] This was a relationship that was to continue for 20 years and gave him the opportunity to work with a vast array of plants in spectacular historic settings, such as Sissinghurst Castle, Hidcote Manor and Mount Stewart.[5] It is Mottisfont Abbey – a creation that he himself described as a "masterpiece" – where his rose collection found its final home, and where his garden design skills can be best appreciated.[2][5]

Gardening accolades and legacy[edit]

In 1975, Thomas received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work with the National Trust. In addition to the OBE, Graham Thomas received the Royal Horticultural Society's Veitch Memorial Medal in 1966 and Victoria Medal of Honour in 1968.[2] He also received a Gold Medal from the RHS for his paintings and drawings. He received the Dean Hole Medal from the Royal National Rose Society and the Garden Writers' Guild gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.

In addition to his garden designs, books and illustrations, Thomas is remembered in garden plants, including the vigorous honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas' and the 1983 David Austin rose 'Graham Thomas'.

He influenced a number of other notable rose growers, including Peter Beales, who worked with him for a short time at Hillings.[6]

Rose 'Graham Thomas', introduced by David Austin, 1983


Books written by Graham Stuart Thomas include:

  • The Old Shrub Roses (1955)
  • Colour in the Winter Garden (1957)
  • Shrub Roses of Today (1962)
  • Climbing Roses Old and New (1965)
  • Perennial Garden Plants (1975)
  • Plants for Ground Cover (1977)
  • The Art of Planting (1984)
  • Complete Flower Paintings and Drawings of Graham Stuart Thomas (1987)
  • The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book, 1994 (republication of Old Shrub Roses, Shrub Roses of Today, and Climbing Roses Old and New)
  • Cuttings from My Garden Notebooks (1997)
  • Treasured Perennials (1999)
  • Graham Stuart Thomas' Three Gardens of Pleasant Flowers: With Notes on Their Design, Maintenance and Plants (2001)
  • The Garden Through the Year (2002)


  1. ^ a b c Rourke, Mary (1 May 2003). "Graham Thomas, 94; Influential Genius of Gardening – Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Graham Stuart Thomas | News". London: The Guardian. 7 May 2003. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Graham Thomas". The Economist. 1 May 2003. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Raver, Anne (28 April 2003). "Graham Stuart Thomas, 94, British Gardener and writer, Dies". Great Britain: Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Gardening (14 July 2009). "Graham Stuart Thomas and the Mottisfont old roses". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Obituary: Peter Beales / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 30 May 2013. 

External sources[edit]