I first met Mary in 1960 when we were medical students at the Westminster. I was struck by her care of others. Medical student Jenny was not coping and eventually committed suicide. It was Mary who tried to support her. I simply did not notice. I moved into the flat after Anne Burn moved out and loved living with Mary and Margaret Spittle. We each had a room. Margaret and I on the top floor and Mary and the kitchen on the middle floor and a hairdresser on the ground floor. Some men in the basement skedaddled with some money and the police came round to enquire. It had lino painted black on the floors in the kitchen and my memory is that the floors sloped. There was no central heating and we had electric Heaters in our rooms.I often wondered what Mary ate as I was the main user of the kitchen. We all cleaned our rooms and I the kitchen and Margaret the bathroom (half way up the stairs between the ground floor and the first floor) and Mary the stairs. This worked well as we were cleaning the area that bothered us if it got too messy. Mary's father had visited the flat and was not enchanted with it. So when my mother come from the North for some meeting in London and wanted to stay we went into overdrive trying to get it looking OK. Mum had Mary's room and loved it! It wasn't the same after Mary left to marry Martin. Mary was really sensible and did some of her student placement at another hospital and got much better experience by doing this. Mary had a great capacity for maintaining friendships and somehow stayed in touch while I worked abroad for nearly 20 years. When I came back to look after my mother in Sussex there were trips over to Vann and meeting up with Anne and Margaret which were so much enjoyed. I could not get a ticket to the Westminster hospital special service in Westminster Abbey last year. Mary got me one and I was able to sit with her and Margaret and then were were taken out to a super lunch by Clive Harmer. A remarkable friend whom I miss greatly.
I was so sad to hear of the death of this kind, wonderful lady. We were frequent visitors to Vann and enjoyed the peace and beauty of the garden. I remember Mary Care every Spring. I chatted to her one day whilst she was I her normal position in the garden bored (head down, weeding away) and admired the white forget-me-nots that were everywhere in bloom. She dived off with bag and trowel and so kindly gave me a clump. Despite our move to Devon 10 years ago the daughters of those forget me nots are still going strong so they live up to their name. I often think of this moment with much happiness. Thank you, Mary, for kindness and inspiration.
I shared a [lively! ] flat in Pimlico with Mary in student days -how lucky we were to be able to afford to live so near the Westminster Hospital We remained friends ever since. She came to visit me last year ,bringing Jackie, another student friend ,and bearing a magnificent Aloe plant which is a constant reminder of her. We had a detailed look at Romsey Abbey, where W.D.Caroe designed the North Porch and she was delighted to discover a Caroe latch on the north door. She was brilliant at ensuring that we had regular meetings – there was never a dull moment – she was one of life's enhancers.
Gosh, what to say? Echoing others – for as long as I can remember, Mary has been a wonderfully energetic, fun-loving and extraordinarily kind force of nature, and lynch-pin, in our family. There was always something magical about trips to Vann. As the youngest cousins we as small things had great fun being put to work wrapping moth-balls in pieces of Mary's old tights to tie to the roses to keep deer away. I also have vivid memories of digging through the board games cupboard in the nursery upstairs to discover some novel ancient treasure to rescue and play. Our several visits each year stand out as delightfully bright spots in my memory. One story from more recent years typifies Mary, I think. She was dropping me off at Witley station after another lovely set of shared days, but we discovered rail-replacement buses were in operation, and I'd just missed the most recent one. Wholly unphased, she instructed me to get back in the car and we zoomed off in hot pursuit – overtaking cars on the narrow lanes. Eventually, we spied the bus and Mary accelerated up the hill, overtook and forced it to stop. Success! Only the bemused bus driver informed us we'd been tailing the wrong bus! Meals at Vann were *events* – we'd lay the table (and be corrected if we got it wrong) and be regaled by wonderful stories from the doyenne at the end of the table – often about her travels or work as a police doctor – then, as conversation lulled, Mary's eyes would droop and eventually gentle snoring would ensue, as life continued around her – no wonder, after all her daily efforts in the garden! Hers was a deep and warmly considerate kindness – every time we spoke she would say, 'when will you come and stay?' and she emailed me from hospital apologising warmly for having to cancel a planned visit to Vann for Fran and I (poignantly – he and she were due to meet for the first time at Vann the weekend after she died). Incredibly, she continued to reply to messages even when she knew her life would not last for much longer… It is clear from reading these tributes that Mary has had a beautiful influence on many hundreds of lives…to say that she will be deeply missed does not express it at all – I remember Mary's delight at receiving a letter addressed to 'Lady Mary' – officially a lady or no, Mary, you will always be queen of Vann for us…
While we have been so saddened by the news of Aunt Mary’s passing, we are so grateful for the family and friends communications and pictures. She was truly an accomplished and remarkable woman, full of love, cheer and endless energy. We are also grateful that we were able to recently spend time with her. Her final resting place looks stunning, and we look forward to visiting her again when we can return to the UK. Our thoughts are with all of you, but particularly Rebecca, Oliver, Ruth and Emily. We send all our love.
I am writing on behalf of my father, John McEwan, who was a friend and colleague of Mary's for many years. John is 91 now and suffers from dementia, but remembers Mary well and was greatly saddened to hear the news of her death. As a child I was lucky enough to be taken to visit Mary many times and to explore the extraordinary wonders of the house and gardens. Our best wishes to all the family at this difficult time.
I only knew Mary as the person writing the gracefully straightforward responses to my e-mailed attempts at cheeking my way into gardening work at Vann, but her humanity and simple courtesy left such an impression on me that I feel genuine sadness at the loss of any future chance of working with her.
My parents Tony & Beatle Nation lived in Glebe House, we had two famous visitors, Mary who came to give my mother advice about the garden, and Louis de Berniere (Smart) who fished in our pond and once caught a pike. Once I had German measles and for some reason Mary was the doctor that came to inspect me. I had a rather smart pair of red pyjamas and every time we met afterwards she would say ‘Ah the boy with the red pyjamas!’ Like Mary, my parents are buried in the churchyard in Hambledon and like Mary they both had a starring role in the funeral scene in Howard’s End, their gravestone being much in evidence. A great lady Mary Carole, she will be much missed.
I first met Mary Caroe in the mid ‘80s through music, my profession at the time. I briefly taught Emily in a recorder ensemble, Peter directed Ruth in an RGS musical and we went to some concerts run by Martin and Mary at Vann. I remember the packed Barn, people sitting on windowsills followed by noisy suppers squashed into the kitchen and parlour. In later years I would often pass her as she went to and from her surgery in Buryfields as I walked my children down to the river. My friend, Clare Heath, would sometimes call in on her way to and from Vann, where she was a regular visitor. But it wasn’t until September 2015 that I came to visit Vann Garden. I had been staying with Clare in Dorset, when on a walk Peter mentioned to her that I was contemplating a career change away from music teaching to gardening. ‘Mary needs a new gardener’, she said, ‘I’ll write and tell her about you.’ Somewhat shyly, I rang her up a few weeks later, and she said, ‘Come to tea, I’ll show you the garden’. After a delicious cup of Lapsang, when I told her about my gardening experience and training through WFGA and my background learning alongside two parents who had met studying horticulture at Wye, she took me on a tour of the garden in all its Autumnal glory. ‘I don’t actually need a new gardener any more’, she said, ‘he’s coming back’. I said if she ever needed an extra pair of hands, I would happily come and help out on a Friday afternoon as I was still in full time employment, and did not expect to hear from her again. Next week, the phone rang: ‘Are you free next Friday, Alex?’ I left school at 1pm, had a hurried lunch and changed into some gardening clothes in the car on my way to Vann, and spent a very happy afternoon following Mary round the garden splitting irises in the Yew Walk and weeding. Thereafter, I went every Friday I could, staying until the sun went down. I raked leaves for 4 hours (and dragged them to the bonfire in her large cart), cut down the whole spirea bed outside the kitchen window: ‘I only meant you to cut back the edge …. but I rather like it, I can see the field beyond and it will grow again. I must give you clearer instructions next time!’ and started to learn how she gardened Vann. Nick, her other gardener was on 2 days a week, he mainly dealt with the vegetable garden and pruning. By March I had worked through the winter by Mary’s side and helped her get ready for her first NGS opening of the year. I gave up my teaching and in April became a gardener. Mary took me on for one day a week, soon to become two and so for the rest of the year, she instructed me in the ways of Vann. I gradually increased in confidence and was set free to tackle areas on my own. I found a lovingly cared for, but generally dilapidated garden. Mary was a messy gardener, she would dig up weeds with a huge chunk of soil and leave a trough in the border; her pots, lovingly planted up with tulips then geraniums each year, shed bits of pottery and decaying wood on the lawns; small plant pots used for potting up the plant sales area were spread over the grass; carefully nurtured cuttings of artemisia and salvia were left to become straggly in the borders. Being of a naturally tidy mind, I quietly went round picking up bits, filling troughs, tidying plant pots, pinching out cuttings and weeding in areas never weeded before. ‘No-one has weeded that thoroughly in Vann before’ was Nick’s comment. I started to tidy up the sheds, the greenhouse, the various compost areas. I was sent to dig brambles, nettles, docks and goosegrass from under the perimeter hedges and along the pond; I weeded and edged the borders, and learnt about many plants, trees and shrubs I had not encountered before. Mary’s gardening knowledge was immense, and when she had forgotten something or didn’t know, we would pore over her books to find the answers. Indeed, she found the name of an obscure wildflower weed I asked her about in the week before she fell ill. By the end of 2016, Nick, her gardener of 6 years, decided finally to leave. No-one was more surprised than me that she asked me to take on the role of Head Gardener and help her recruit a second gardener. When Nick raised his eyebrows at this news, her response was ‘What Alex doesn’t know, she will very quickly learn’. The garden I took over at that point was one that had been overseen, managed and gardened by Mary for 16 years. Originally the under gardener, she threw herself into keeping the garden after Martin’s untimely death, as much in his image as she could. She felt he was on her shoulder, telling her what to do, to the end. And so the garden grew and gradually evolved into a haven for self seeded wildflowers, informal plantings, relaxed leggy shrubs, ancient roses and hydrangeas left to grow large, with sedums, comfrey and euphorbias everywhere. Yet the separate areas were kept clearly defined by clipped hedges and edges. After a visit to Italy, she came home wanting to parterre the vegetable garden. I was thrilled – I could design an ordered set of veg beds and so bought 120 small yews, which I planted in newly divided veg borders. She loved nothing better than to find a new area to plant – so we planted up three new beds in the water garden ( hellebores, euphorbia, comfrey, sedum, geranium, hosta – all dug up from around the garden), and a new area by the orchard. She had plans to extend her plantings by the last waterfall just before she died. She could never sit still. Every day I came to work, I found her heaps around the garden. ‘I’ve left them, Alex, so you know exactly where I’ve been working’. She would work long hours into the dark and stumble back exhausted. She picked and froze and made jam from all the fruit and vegetables in the garden. We collected tons of apples every year to be turned into cider or stored in the apple store. We split and dug up plants ready to be sold on Open days. Gradually the plants and borders became a little more orderly and healthy, wildflowers and euphorbias were allowed to populate but not take over. With the advent of a new gardener in November 2018 many shrubs and climbing plants have undergone renovation; the garden now is looking as cared for, but less straggly and over populated by self sown wildflowers. Some vistas not seen for many years have opened up. Mary thrived on praise and appreciation of her garden, and Vann is now, after 20 years of her leadership, Mary’s garden. It is unique in style and while it will continue to be developed – all gardens are organic – her influence and informality will always be part of its charm. Mary’s intellectual interest in plants and gardens and particularly Gertrude Jekyll, also led her to be a driving force behind the start of Surrey Garden Trust, and indeed to the very end she was fundraising for their projects and inspiring others to join. She encouraged me to be a member and I greatly enjoy the winter lectures and garden visits when time allows. She also introduced me to her ‘Gateway’ project which she ran single handedly for Surrey when the national initiative folded over 6 years ago. It enables free access to beautiful gardens (tea and cake!) to disabled, disadvantaged and adult learning groups. For the past two years I have taken over the reins from her, but she was still keen to come with us and help out with the visits. Under her gruff, formidable, passionate and driven persona was a very caring heart. Mary now rides on my shoulder as I work in her garden. When I wrote to her and told her this, in the last few days of her life, her response was ‘lucky me’. I am so honoured to have been by her side for the past 5 years, I miss her very much.
Remembering Mary is not difficult. The joy and pleasure she gave through her wonderful garden, the Summer Concerts and picnics, tennis days, working with her in the Village Shop, her cheerful disposition full of humour and fun and laughter (unforgettable) will be treasured, as will the plants from Vann which I have growing here in the London garden, a wonderful memory. Thank you, Mary, and to her family for this opportunity to offer my gratitude.
When I (Kate) first met Mary it was at Martin's funeral and Chris and I were engaged. I was in awe of her as she is obviously from a completely different world to me. I wasn't very good at speaking as assertively and confidently as she expected, so I used to feel quite awkward, but despite that I could tell how kind and welcoming and accepting she really was underneath her brusque manner. I loved the way she hosted Caroe Garden Parties every year and always hoped we could come, even though we usually couldn't. I loved the way she was a lynch-pin in the family and offered this unconditional open invitation every year and helped us feel part of the dispersed community of the family. We visited when we could and stayed for a few days two or three times, including during the London Olympics. Mary always made us feel completely welcome, I enjoyed helping out a bit in the kitchen and making beds with her, and I particularly got into my stride with her once we had four children and were home educating. I always felt she understood our home ed lifestyle in a way that not many people do – a throwback to a time and society when more people educated children at home using Charlotte Mason principles. She also approved of us having a large family, and when I told her that we were wondering whether I was too old to have more children she impatiently retorted, "How old are you? 36? Well you've got time to have *four* more children if you want to!" She didn't think we were mad like most people did, so I suddenly thought maybe I would really dare to do it – we partly have Mary to thank for Jonathan and Richard being born! Another time we stayed at Vann Mary insisted on digging out an old Silver Cross pram for the baby to sleep in. She went to such trouble to get it out for us and it was really rather idyllic to walk around the gardens with baby in the pram and then put him to rest under the shade of a tree. Later she held and bounced him while encouraging the others to play their instruments for her out on the lawn; she was an exacting and encouraging audience for them! Vann Fest of course was brilliant and Mary was wonderful to host it and to cope with the invasion. When we arrived with our caravan (not really in the spirit of the weekend, which was pretty much all tents) I always thought she was amused and intrigued by it. She had an adventurous spirit and I felt she would be equally at home on holiday in a little caravan as in her huge house! The children remember her for her gurgly jug, her out-of-date spreads at breakfast, being noisy and chatty in the kitchen, the rocking horse and trampoline, us trying to look for her in the garden and eventually coming across her on her hands and knees in a flowerbed, and them making a clay pie and finding it still there on the path the next time we visited! My one regret is that we were away in France one time that Mary was in Yorkshire and asked if she could come to stay with us. I would have really liked to have hosted her at least once. Our last communication with her, apart from when she was in hospital, was at about 11 o'clock one evening in the middle of February when we emailed to ask if we could come to stay for a few days in the Easter holidays. She wrote straight back and was keen for us to come, and we then also made plans for meeting up around Hannah's wedding. We had a fun exchange of emails at a ridiculous hour of the night, ending with "Sounds like the best plans are hatched at night! xx Mary" Of course that visit never happened. We will miss her.
Fifteen years ago I was fortunate in being allocated Mary as my room mate on a trip to Uzbekistan. She was such great company, and made the journey even more memorable with our intrepid shopping trips around the bazaars buying saddlebags, kilims and tent hanging to add to her collection. Here's a picture of her messing about in the slave market in Khiva. The dressing on her thumb is my handiwork – she had cut her thumb badly doing some last minute pruning in the garden at her beloved Vann.
We have wonderful memories of adventures with Mary while staying at Vann. It all started by me meeting Becky at Pembroke College. We shared many similar interests and then came Vann Fest. It was quite incredible and we loved it; camping out under the stars, dancing, rocket launching and many other experiences with so many others, Mary generously allowing a mini invasion of Vann. One thing led to another and we found ourselves sharing part of the South wing as a weekend escape from London. We started to go and would often see Mary in the Garden. She was quite busy, very social and always keen to know what we were up to. We absolutely loved touring the Gardens with her. One year we did a special project and dug some steps at the far end of the Glen. It was hard graft and a big project. Other times, we just enjoyed seeing the greenhouse and discussing the garden plans. We laughed when the gardens were open and people used to ask for tea and cakes through the kitchen windows. Now, I will add Mary made incredible flapjacks. There was always an excitement underway when we saw Mary. One year, William caught a pheasant (by hand) and took it to show her. She politely enquired if he was going to eat it (he put it back in the hedgerow). Another time, there was a disoriented dove on the back lawn. Mary lent us a cage so we duly caught the dove (which turned out to be a racing pigeon), phoned the owner who lived half way across the country (which was a bit far to drive it home). Then there were the frogs, snakes, mice, bats and all sorts of excitements. Nothing phased Mary. If Mary wasn’t having a dinner party herself, she sometimes came to join us for supper and a game of scrabble. We were always swapping and borrowing things. She was a good sport. We remember the Easter egg hunts and one year the infamous water fight. There were so many special times, often quite extraordinary. Thank you to Becky, Ruth, Oliver and Emily for enabling us to share those moments and to get to know your truly incredible Mother. We will cherish the memories.
Pour moi Mary c'est une personne hors du commun . Elle savait tout faire. Mes souvenirs datent de loin, de notre jeunesse puisqu'elle venait à la Grand-Cour chez ma grand-mère. Puis plus tard nous nous sommes vus souvent soit à Saint Germain chez moi ou chez mon frère Adrien , soit à Vann où je suis allée avec mes enfants et deux de mes petits enfants. Lors de notre dernière rencontre chez Nicholas en Janvier elle m' a dit qu'elle avait bien l'intention de rejouer au tennis! Quand je m'occupe de mon jardin, je pense toujours à elle et à tous les conseils qu'elle m 'a donnés. Elle avait organisé pour elle et Rebecca un séjour chez nous en Septembre pour que je lui fasse les honneurs de Versailles et de notre ville.Tu vas beaucoup nous manquer Mary. Nos liens de famille sont lointains mais très forts
I was at school with Becky, and was invited toVann as a young teenager. It was just magical. Martin and Mary generously took me on holiday with the family to Wales a couple of times in my formative years, and always made me feel so welcome. They were amazingly kind and tolerant, and I have returned to Vann for family events and reunions whenever I have been able to. This has been such a privilege. Mary was a very strong yet gentle person, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to have known her as I grew up. I wish I had told her how important being included and accepted by her has been to me over the years. . Thank you Mary.
We have brought several groups of our clients to visit the gardens at Vann in recent years as part of our garden tours. The wonderful gardens at Vann were a highlight of our tour weeks and meeting Mary and having lunch in the historic barn with her amazing textile collection was truly a memorable experience. Mary regaled us with colourful stories from her travels, family and the development of the gardens, much to the fascination and amusement of our guests. She was ever generous in her sharing of the garden and her knowledge of plants which was extensive. Strolling through the gardens looking for her topiary animals and Caroe latches, many clients commented on the special atmosphere and entirely peaceful oasis that are the gardens at Vann. We are so sorry to hear about Mary – as well as a desperate loss to family and friends, she will be truly missed by the world of horticulture.
We met Mary in Iran and immediately loved her! She was fun and funny. When we got home she sweetly showed us around lovely Vann garden and we returned many times! Her strawberries were just the best ever. They smelt and tasted as strawberries should. When ever you arrived she was always in the garden. Picking broad beans or weeding. Tea in the garden with really gooey flap jacks. Dinner with Mary was always entertaining! She was the most generous, interesting and lovely person. Not scary at all! We shall miss her very much.
We will miss Aunt Mary dreadfully. She was so full of fun and smiles. Her generous, effortless hospitality was legendary in our house, and there were always childrens' cries of "When can we see Great Aunt Mary in Vann?". Whenever we reluctantly pulled ourselves away for the drive home after a visit with full tummies, and tired legs from running or swimming, there were choruses from the back seat of 'When can we go back again?". Mary cared for a house that was a home and a garden that was an oasis. We will miss her, we will miss drinking tea on the lawn and listening to her amusing anecdotes. And we will make good on the promise to look after the cuttings she gave us – our mini 1 foot by 1 foot Vann patch continues to make us smile.
Dear wonderful Caroes, We are really thinking of you, Becky how very hard for you. We are very sorry to hear this news of your marvellous mother who has left such strong and wonderful memories. We remember as students the first time of meeting her at Vann, she had the same look and style as my mother and I instantly realised she is a truly amazing and fascinating person. She always reminded me of my late mother, and indeed years later the two of them met a few times in London and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. So I can imagine as a mother she was a huge force for you all in everything she did. We are sending you much love in the months ahead and we send you love and big (virtual) hugs. Take care and hope to see you again later. Much love from Alexx and Simonxx.
Never have three words run so well together. Mary Caroe formidable. From a young age I have always been slightly in awe. Mary has been an oak in my life. Constant, ever-present, resilient, never noticeably changing. Known but slightly mysterious through her majesty. Lord she had so much more to live. Always generous with Vann from letting me fritter around measuring Vann for an architectural project. To playing tennis on the tennis court…though I never did swim in the lake. To going and slipping into the barn and playing snooker on the full-size table. Lifting the cool, slightly damp velvet cover off its baize. Her form rearing up from some border as you approached. A bundle of weeds and a glove thrust on her hips, "no problem at all help yourself…but how are you?" A few missives shared. Yes I was just at…delete as appropriate ( The Lord Mayor's show, with the Lord Mayor/ Buckingham Palace/ The Bishops Palace)but with Mary it all seemed so normal. Hats, ice skates, bad cars, warmth, energy, always leaving to go somewhere else. Battles with weights and measures and the trading standards at the council with the vegetable stall. Never stopping. Always a metronome set at a faster pace than others. I saw her last at Christmas outside the village shop as part of the village choir gamely singing "Fairytale of New York" with enthusiasm and a smile. Off now to scrawl one more name in her extensive black book of contacts.