I learned about Valerie Finnis from World of Interiors (I blogged some pictures of her home, from the same article, here). But for this post, I'm most interested in the woman herself and want to quote to you from the superb and vivid accompanying article, written by Amicia de Moubray:
"On leaving school at 18, Valerie went to Waterperry Horticultural School for Women, run by Miss Beatrix Havergal, a splendid figure who wore gaiters and a collar and tie. Valerie stayed on and taught at Waterperry for 30 years when suddenly, in 1968, her life took a dramatic twist. 'I was working in my old dungarees in the potting shed when I heard a voice outside declare: "Goodness, she's got Gillenia trifoliata." An excited Finnis dashed out. 'You're the first person who's ever known that plant!' she exclaimed to the speaker, Sir David Scott. Both lives changed at that moment. Valerie was 46 and David 82. 'We never thought of age, we just fitted in,' Valerie always said. Within hours of their marriage, they were gardening side by side as they were so happily to do for the next 16 years, until David died in 1986 aged 99."
After her husband's death, Valerie set up the Merlin Trust, which gives grants to young gardeners for projects and travel. Various plants were named after Valerie, or her house and she was also awarded the VMH - Victoria Medal of Honour - by the RHS in 1975. But in addition to her botanical skills, she was an avid photographer. More than 55,000 of her transparencies survive, photographs of fellow gardeners, like Margery Fish and Vita Sackville-West, as well as breath-taking still lifes.
Valerie Finnis died in October 2006.
The Finnis-Scott Foundation
The Merlin Trust
Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis
The original article by Amicia de Moubray appeared in World of Interiors, April 2009 with photography by Jan Baldwin. Portrait of Finnis shown also by Jan Baldwin and scanned from this article.