JARS v39n3 - In Memoriam: Frank P. Knight

In Memoriam: Frank P. Knight
P. H. (Jock) Brydon
Salem, Oregon

Mr. Frank P. Knight, FLS. VMH, who died on March 10, 1985, aged 82, was an outstanding horticulturist who will be remembered as an enthusiastic plantsman. Born at Wellington Park, on the borders of Devon and Cornwall, he underwent a formal horticultural training, and, during the war, was involved in camouflage.

Early in his career Knight was a student at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, a plant propagator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and spent some years at the Knaphill Nursery near Woking. From 1944 to 1954 he was managing director of the Notcutts nursery at Woodbridge, Suffolk. He took it over at a time when it was suffering from the war years, but with typical enthusiasm and energy, he revitalized it to become a thriving concern.

From 1955 to 1969 Knight was Director of the Royal Horticultural Society's garden, Wisley, Surrey. He not only helped to establish this as one of the world's finest gardens, but he took a keen interest in the hundreds of horticultural students who passed through, guiding and advising them on their careers.

Frank P. Knight, FLS. VMH
Frank P. Knight, FLS. VMH

His main interest was trees and shrubs, including Rhododendrons and Camellias, and he was regarded as an authority. He had a great knowledge of plant collectors and the plants they introduced from the wild. During his years at Notcutts, he raised plants from seeds collected by Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff.

He retired in 1969 and spent part of his retirement travelling and lecturing, particularly on plant introductions from the wild. He was also an experienced judge at the RHS and county shows.

Following are excerpts from an address given at Frank's funeral by Jeremy Walsh, Frank's son-in-law:

"As one friend wrote in a letter this week, "Plants and people were Frank's great interests in life: both received his endless enthusiasm to the very end." He loved his friends - loved "a good talk" with them, and loved talking about them, as he recalled gardens planted together, or shows they had judged, plants they had collected, or a shared achievement in the propagating house. He had an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes, told with great humor, and a prodigious memory for people and events. In recent years he had been looking back through his diaries, writing up the years at Notcutts, and more recently his time at Wisley. His work on the Wisley diaries was completed just a week or two ago, and so a fascinating story of much of his life's work remains for others to enjoy and share.

And if his memory for people was prodigious, what about his memory for plants? A memory that thankfully remained clear and precise right to the end. You may call him a horticulturist, though he preferred "gardener", but the proper title for him is "plantsman" - a title deserved by only relatively few. For the truth is that he loved plants; he knew that plants, like people, need to be cherished; and for him, every plant had a story to tell.

In his daughter's diary there is an entry for today - "Grandpa home." She was to have met him at the station on his return from Pershore, where he should have given the RHS lecture yesterday, so that she could drive him to his home. It turned out rather differently, but the entry needs no alteration. He goes home, and we commend him to God's safe keeping and loving care. He leaves us with our memories, with a sense of thankfulness, and with lives enriched. It is a moment of great sadness, but in our sadness we can also rejoice."