Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ruth Bancroft passes away at age 109

On Sunday, November 26, Ruth Bancroft passed away at her home in Walnut Creek. She was 109 years old. I will miss her greatly even though I met her only once, briefly. Somehow I had thought she would live forever and that at some point there would be another opportunity to visit with her.

Ruth Bancroft and RBG curator Brian Kemble who has been working alongside Ruth since 1980.
Photo © 2016 by Stephen Lysaght. Used with Stephen's permission.

Ruth started her now iconic succulent garden in 1972 at the age of 63. I bet she had no idea that she would live another 47 years to see her labor of love mature and inspire tens of thousands of gardeners to plant dry gardens as well.

At the time, she was often asked why she would embark on such a big project at her age when it was more than likely that she would never see the plants grow to maturity. This was her reply: “Well, who cares if I’m around or not? Someone will be around. And if I don’t plant it then nobody will get to see it.”

We should all live and garden by this tenet.

Here is a loving tribute by some of Ruth's closest friends. It's only 10 minutes long, but it gives you a good idea of what a special person Ruth was. It certainly brought a tear or two to my eyes.


Garden photographer Saxon Holt, who has known Ruth since 1992, posted this touching tribute filled with beautiful photos from the RBG.

This article in the Fall 1977 issue of Pacific Horticulture is a wonderful look at what the garden was like in its early days.

The best resource to the learn more about Ruth and her garden is the Timber Press book The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Gardenwritten by Johanna Silver and lavishly illustrated with photos by Marion Brenner.

Below is the official statement from the Ruth Bancroft Garden in case you're interested in making a donation in Ruth's memory:

On behalf of The Ruth Bancroft Garden and the Bancroft family, we are saddened to announce the passing of our beloved founder, Ruth Bancroft. Ruth, who was 109 years of age, died at home surrounded by family, and by the extensive, amazing private and public gardens she created and tended over 76 years of her lifetime.

Mrs. Bancroft gained international recognition for her pioneering work in horticulture, demonstrating that a dry garden in the heart of a busy urban, inland corridor could be lush, diverse, and striking in design. Her garden was the inspiration for the founding of The Garden Conservancy in 1989, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving private gardens for public use. The Ruth Bancroft Garden was its first preservation project in 1992.

The Bancroft Family and The Ruth Bancroft Garden will host a celebration of Ruth’s life in the Garden when weather permits in early 2018. Friends of Ruth and the family, supporters of the Garden, and admirers will all be invited to attend. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in honor of Mrs. Bancroft be directed to benefit the mission of The Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc. at 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, 94598 or sent to the Garden via the website: http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/rbgarden/pages/support.html

You can also donate by texting ALOE to 41444.

11 comments:

  1. Oh that video! Thank you. I do wish they would have told us who each of the people were. Obviously I recognize Brian but the others...?

    There have been so any heart-felt tributes to Ruth, posted across the inter-webs. I do hope she's up there feeling the outpouring of love.

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    1. I also wish they had identified the people in the video. Brian Pyle says the older lady with white hair was a close friend of Ruth's.

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    1. And a long life, too. She was loved by so many, and she never set out to become "famous" in the first place.

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  3. Incredibly inspiring woman. Lovely tribute, thanks.

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    1. I wish I had met her many years ago when she was still active in the garden.

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  4. Thanks for sharing the video, Gerhard. I'd somehow forgotten that Ruth didn't start her groundbreaking garden until she was in her 60s. There's a tremendous message in that fact alone! A life very well-lived.

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    1. I agree! The fact that she didn't hesitate to embark on such a big project later in life is a true inspiration for me.

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  5. Not only her garden itself but its' roll as the fountainhead of the Garden Conservancy has had a significant impact on my life as a gardener. One can only imagine how many others have benefited from these two organizations. I know my next visit to RBG will be extremely meaningful. And I can't help but wonder what might become of her private garden.I hope it will also be protected.

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    1. I know what you mean. My next visit to the RBG will be bittersweet.

      I don't know what will become of her house and private garden. I'm hoping her family will continue to live there.

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  6. A visionary gardener whose legacy is an inspiration. Thank you for the video and links.

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