Obituary: Marney Hall

Tributes have been paid to St Ives wildlife expert Marney Hall.

Tributes have been paid to St Ives wildlife expert Marney Hall. - Credit: Archant

An award-winning plant expert who played a key part in making wild flowers available to home gardeners has died at the age of 70.

Marney Hall, from St Ives, could number a string of gold awards, including Chelsea, for the gardens she designed, both at home and internationally amongst her successes.

She also became an expert in butterflies while working at the Monks Wood ecological research centre near Huntingdon where she was involved in the reintroduction of the swallowtail butterfly to Wicken Fen.

A keen horticulturist from an early age, Marney, who was born at St Helen in 1949, soon discovered that horse manure was the best thing for making roses grow which did not always please her mother.

Marney attended Cowley Girls Grammar school in St Helens, and then Ashton Grammar School where she achieved good grades, and aged 18, started to apply for environmental research roles.

She looked at marine roles, but was told women were not hired to go to sea but wasn’t to be deterred and in 1968 her application to Monks Wood to study the ecology of butterflies as a research scientist was successful specialising in the management of nature reserves, especially for butterfly species which were struggling. Her most noted achievement was on the re-introduction of the swallowtail butterfly to Wicken Fen.

Having risen through the ranks to senior scientific officer, Marney made the brave decision to take early retirement in 1988, as she believed there was an opportunity to grow and sell native wildflowers to the retail market, setting up the Cambridgeshire Countryside Centre which became Countryside Wildflowers.

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Her plants later became available in garden centres.

Daughter Sam Hardingham said in a tribute: “The wildflower seed producers embraced Marney, and by 1993 she was invited to grow wildflowers for a seaside garden at Chelsea Flower Show designed by Julie Toll.

“That garden went on to win The Fiskars Sword of Excellence, and mum got a taste of the success, as well as sensing the turning tide of wildflowers in show gardens, and the opportunities this created for the business.

“Over the next few years she teamed up with others, perfecting the growing for shows, and in 1996 Countryside won the Best in Show at Hampton Court for a Winnie The Pooh garden with Paul Dyer.”

Sam said: “With no formal design training, she enlisted the help of her artist friend and colleague Phil Game to create some images to submit her first design to the RHS for Chelsea. This was approved, and in 1998 she won Best in Show for the Quarrymans garden.

“Marney continued to “wow” visitors to Chelsea, Hampton Court, Gardeners World flower shows, as well as travelling internationally to The USA and Japan to exhibit through the following two decades - winning Gold Medals and best in show for many.”

Marney was also happy to take in house guests with a passion for conservation, garden design and horticulture.

In later life Marney, who loved a glass of Champagne and never left the house without her jewellery, developed an interest in scuba diving.