Sir Peter Hutchison, a renowned 20th century plant hunter, botanist and author, has died.
Aged 83 when he passed away, Peter was a keen gardener, amateur botanist, environmentalist and intrepid explorer with an outstanding knowledge and appreciation of the world of plants.
For more than three decades he delivered an exceptional contribution to the life and work of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with over a quarter-century dedicated to steering the course of Benmore Botanic Garden, its 120 acre west coast site near Dunoon, on the Cowal Peninsula.
As the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Garden he brought a wealth of knowledge, humility and vision. During his chairmanship (1985 to 1994), there was a notable expansion in the organisation’s international taxonomy research programmes.
The Education programme was expanded, major improvements made to the Garden landscape and Living Collection. The Herbarium and Library were extended to accommodate the results of expanding global collaborations and enhanced facilities were created to cater for a rapidly growing number of visitors.
However, his contributions to the plant world stretched well beyond Scotland. From 1962 to 2005, along with Peter Cox, of Glendoick, he played a significant role in a new era of plant collecting.
Trekking rugged terrain the two would complete a total 16 epic journeys, travelling trails so remote and rough they had never before been botanised.
They introduced a vast selection of plants, especially rhododendrons, new or lost to cultivation, often saving them from extinction. Many of these are now grown happily outside in temperate regions of Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia.
In their early days much of the Himalaya and all of China was closed territory. As the region began to open up, new partnerships were made with the authorities, local botanists and RBGE taxonomists. The duration of their pursuits saw significant change in the way collecting took place.
From the days of porters bearing heavy canvas tents with wooden poles and shipments of food shipped in from Britain to sleeping under ‘flimsy domes of nylon’ and consuming local supplies.
The two regaled in tales of sodden tents, food poisoning, ticks the size of pennies, and so many other travel headaches in their good-humoured quests.
Typically, when asked of his achievements in finding species lost or new to science, Peter would point out ‘the plants are perfectly well known to the local inhabitants, but not by Latin names and usually as food and medicine.’
Back in Scotland the Peters set their sights on establishing a garden in western Scotland that would be suitable for growing plants too tender for conditions at Glendoick. In exquisite woodland, on temperate West Loch Tarbert, Baravalla was born. Thirty years on, the garden is an impressive sight, open only by special invitation.
Peter Hutchison leaves a great legacy in the plants of our everyday gardens, in the world’s leading horticultural and scientific collections and within the ranks of the plant collecting community.