Lucille Savin picked as one of Britain's most exciting Head Gardeners

Merton’s talented head gardener, Lucille Savin, is one of fourteen gardeners profiled in a new book by award-winning writer and garden historian Ambra Edwards (St Hilda's, 1976), who makes the case that gardens are Britain’s greatest contribution to world culture, and that the head gardeners who care for them are therefore vital to our cultural capital and deserve to be more widely known and appreciated.

Lucille is singled out for her adventurous plantsmanship, especially for her exuberant container displays and her bold use of exotics, which miraculously thrive within Merton’s benign microclimate even when their counterparts only yards away in the Botanic Garden perish. In this sense, Lucille’s gardening echoes the intellectual audacity that is the glory of an institution like Merton - experiment, risk, daring to think what has never been thought before. Inevitably, there will be failures, but there is also great liberation and learning in constantly pushing the boundaries and trying out new ideas. At the same time, she is careful to preserve the sense of timeless tranquillity that is so special about the garden. Its most important role, suggests Lucille, is as a decompression chamber for over-stressed students.

Lucille Savin - Photo: © Charlie Hopkinson -
Lucille Savin - Photo: © Charlie Hopkinson -

Working in the garden certainly seems to have imbued Lucille with an imperturbable calm. She is admired for her Zen-like approach to gardening adversity - receptions and balls laying waste to her carefully nurtured lawns and borders; trashings leaving residues of champagne and baked beans; or film crews requiring ponds to appear overnight for handy corpse disposal. "She is not," Edwards observes, "a woman given to panic."

Head Gardeners features photographs by leading landscape and portrait photographer Charlie Hopkinson, and is published by Pimpernel Press on Thursday 21 September.