Acclaimed botanical author and photographer, Nancy Gardiner, has died. She was 99 years old.
The Hilton resident was a household name in South Africa’s gardening circles, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Keith Kirsten, Tanya Visser and Margaret Roberts.
In a tribute to her, artist and long-time friend, Trayci Tompkins said: “Amid the tears and deep, deep pain I feel tonight knowing our precious Nancy has left us today, I find a whole lot of gratitude in having been loved by this remarkable lady.
“She touched many of our lives in her 99 years ... and she did it with the most incredible grace, honesty and enormous curiosity. RIP darling Nancy, your beauty will live within us forever more.”
Gardiner had a life-long love affair with the natural world, not surprising really, as she was born into a family of gardeners.
Her parents had a farm in Hillary, near Durban, and gave each of their children part of a large plot to look after.
“If you weren’t doing a good job, my dad would take the plot back,” she said in an interview last year, shortly after she had been given an award to recognise her contribution to botany at The Witness Garden Show at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.
Her curiosity about all growing things led her to study botany and zoology at the then University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg.
Later, when Gardiner returned to Durban, she was offered a chance to learn to write freelance articles by Faye Goldie at the New Era School of Writing.
Her first story, about the planting of flowers in the Durban city centre, appeared in Farmer’s Weekly.
“That’s where it all began. I started writing about the Zulu people and the Shembe Church.
“Faye suggested I get a camera and my late husband, Ian, taught me how to use it. I absolutely loved what I was doing,” she told The Witness.
In the 1960s, Gardiner moved to the Midlands with Ian and five children and started doing work for the Azalea Gardens.
In an interview with former Witness journalist Stephen Coan in 2005, she recalled: “I found all these beautiful nurseries and went down to Carters, where Trevor Schofield took me in hand and told me all about azaleas. And so I met lots of people and gardeners.”
Fascinated by the beautiful gardens in the Midlands, she returned to writing, eventually penning more than a dozen books.
Her love of outdoor beauty was echoed inside her home.
Gardiner was an avid collector and her home became a treasure trove of antiques over the years.
She was a regular at Cannon and Cannon Auctioneers at the Quarry Centre in Hilton and according to friends, was also a great bargain hunter, who enjoyed discovering a rare china plate at second hand stores.
After she retired, Gardiner remained involved in the horticultural fraternity, visiting local gardens and as a member of several gardening societies.
She also gave talks on gardening and plant life, kept her own garden blossoming, and, as a doyenne of the green-fingered fraternity, Gardiner had a bougainvillea, a daylily and a rose named after her.
The soft coral pink Nancy Gardiner Rose is described as having a profusion of layers and being “gentle and thornless too, like the lady herself”.
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