Sir Peter Smithers

Mary Sue Ittner
Fri, 09 Jun 2006 20:16:48 PDT
Thanks Lee for forwarding the message to those of us who are no longer IBS 
members but still have memories of Sir Peter Smithers. I was lucky enough 
to visit him twice in Switzerland. The first time I knew I was going to go 
to Switzerland (1997) I was trying to get courage to ask him if I could 
visit when he posted something to the IBS list about his fantasies of all 
the women on the list. I can't remember exactly what he said, something 
along the line that he pictured them as all young, beautiful, knowledgeable 
and experts in horticulture, botany, etc. That stopped me in my tracks for 
awhile, but eventually I did ask to come explaining I didn't fit his 
fantasies, but could my husband and I come anyway?

He responded:
"Hell No! An old gent my age thinks two live persons better than a fantasy, 
so you will both be very welcome. "  And afterwards he wrote:
"We much enjoyed your materialising out of the electronic mists."

I will never forget the visit. First of all the luncheon we were given was 
one of the best meals we had on our trip including sorbet made out of 
passion fruit he grew. His wife was a gracious charming hostess and we 
found him a fascinating person with wonderful stories. We loved walking 
through his garden and pondering his philosophy of creating a garden that 
over time grew to be less work rather than more as it became a self 
sustaining ecosystem. We admired his ideas of creating a garden that would 
blend into his surroundings rather than call attention to its difference. 
And most of all we appreciated his philosophy of sharing what he had and 
knew with other gardeners and plant enthusiasts. He remembered as a young 
boy all the people who were kind enough to take the time to help him. So he 
was always willing to answer questions or to provide seed, cuttings or 
plants. We visited an entire arboretum built on a hillside that seemed to 
have acquired most of the collection from cuttings from his plants. He had 
the wealth to be able to travel to foreign lands to collect exotic special 
plants, but even after he no longer was doing that, others continued to go 
out of their way to obtain special specimens for him as their way of 
repaying his generosity to them.  He loved telling about what people had 
brought him.

He was so apologetic on our visit that he didn't have a plant to give me, 
but he did give me a signed copy of his book and some Lilium (Pink Trumpet) 
seeds. I read a chapter every night for the rest of my journey, savoring 
the stories. I just wish I could have taken more of the philosophy of 
working less instead of more to heart. Every year those Lilium return and 
get taller and remind me of him and our visit. Last year I gave seed to the 
BX so hopefully others in our group will have a Sir Peter momento too. The 
Clivia Vico Gold I got in a group order has yet to bloom for me. The Lilium 
that I grew myself has been much more satisfactory. On that first visit he 
produced his accession books. He had made a record in a ledger of every 
plant he had ever acquired by number and he was in the process of 
transferring all those records to an Access data base and wondering if he'd 
finish before he died. There is a lot about that 1997 trip that is now 
fuzzy in my memory, but my visit to Sir Peter and his wife shines brightly.

We visited him again in 2000. He had slowed down a lot in the years in 
between and was no longer able to garden very much, but still able to walk 
through his garden once a day. It was very steep so he knew there would be 
a time that would no longer be possible. This time I brought friends along 
who were our travel companions. They weren't all into gardening and 
certainly not into bulbs, but each one was so appreciative of the 
experience of meeting him and his wife. It was very difficult for me to pry 
them away in time to catch the last bus to return to our hotel. We had to 
run all the way down the hill from his house, a very long way,  to make it. 
They still talk about that visit from time to time and one friend who went 
back to Switzerland a couple of years ago went to a showing of some of his 
photographs. He had some amazing nerine and peony photographs he had taken 
on panels in his entry way and was an early pioneer of flower photography.

Early on Sir Peter had planned for his special breeding and plants to go to 
a good home before he was no longer able to care for them. He told us his 
house was for sale in 1997 when we first visited, but I am glad to read he 
never had to leave the wonderful garden he created until the end. Knowing 
he is no longer alive makes me sad, but I remain grateful for having the 
opportunity to meet him and for the lessons I learned from him.

Mary Sue

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