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- Russell, James
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James Philip Cuming Russell was born on 3 April 1920 and educated at Eton College where he won the Harmsworth Memorial Prize for his botanical drawing in 1935. He had intended to read Botany at Cambridge University but after the outbreak of World War II he instead joined the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, being invalided out of the army in 1942. It was following his discharge that Russell became involved with Sunningdale Nurseries, founded in 1846 and acquired by Russell’s father and cousin before the war. In 1956 horticulturalist Graham Stuart Thomas joined Sunningdale as nursery manager, combining his work there with a role as gardens advisor to The National Trust. Famous for its rhododendrons and roses, the work of Russell and Thomas at Sunningdale is credited with restoring the nursery’s fortunes.
In 1968 Russell’s personal connection to Sunningdale came to an end when it was sold to Waterers, although he continued to work with Waterers in a consultancy role. Between 1968 and 1984 Russell was resident horticultural consultant to George Howard, Baron Howard of Henderskelfe, a close friend from his time at Eton and the owner of Castle Howard in Yorkshire. During his time at Castle Howard Russell oversaw the creation of the Rose Garden and Ray Wood and the beginning of the arboretum in the 1970s. Russell’s work at Castle Howard came to an end with the death of George Howard in 1984, although he continued to be involved with the Plant Centre he had established there.
Alongside his work at Sunningdale and Castle Howard Russell also undertook design and consultancy work for private clients. In 1950 Russell had been asked to design a landscape for Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland at the request of Lord Hastings, a fellow Eton pupil, and from there on he became principally concerned with garden design, designing and creating landscapes for a variety of high profile private clients both at home and abroad. These included Hugh and Gavin Astor, the Earl of Carnarvon, and the Duchess of Westminster in the UK, as well as Sir Nicholas Nuttall at Nassau in the Bahamas and Lady Wimborne in Normandy.
Russell also undertook a number of corporate projects, notably for architectural firm Arup Associates at Gateway House in Basingstoke, the headquarters of the paper merchants Wiggins Teape Ltd, in 1973-1981, and at the Colchester factory of the sweet manufacturer Trebor in 1978-1979. Between 1987 and 1991 he also acted as advisor to the Seiyo Corporation during the landscaping of the Mount Akagi Nature Observation Park in Japan. His work on the project necessitated several visits to the park and was covered in the newsletter of the Royal Horticultural Society of Japan.
Russell was recognised as an expert on botany and landscape design during his lifetime and made a number of contributions to that field of study. He travelled abroad on plant hunting expeditions, visiting America (1967), Madagascar (1979), Nassau, Georgia, the Bahamas, Martinique and France (1980), Sri Lanka (1981), and Mexico (1984). In 1985 he was part of the expedition led by John Simmons, a friend and then curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to study plants in Guizhou, a province of the new People’s Republic of China that had previously been closed to Western visitors.
He also wrote or contributed to several published works. In 1955 he co-authored ‘Old Garden Roses’ with Wilfred Blunt and Sacheverell Sitwell; in 1960 he published 'Rhododendrons at Sunningdale' and in 1962 he became involved with the Shell Garden Scheme, drawing up a list of gardens for the ‘Shell Guide to English Gardens’ in 1977. Later he wrote about his work at Castle Howard, notably ‘The Dairies Castle Howard’ by James Russell in Interiors magazine (June, 1983) and ‘James Russell’ in The English Garden Room, edited by Emily Dickinson (London, 1986).
In 1981 Russell received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Veitch Medal and in 1988 their highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, in recognition of his work. In 1994 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of York for his contribution to botany and conservation.
James Russell retired in 1992 and died on 28 April 1996, aged 76.
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'The Archive of James Russell, garden designer, deposited at the Borthwick Institute, University of York' by Katrina Legg (York, 2003)
'James Philip Cuming Russell: A Summary' (http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/person/1184)
'Great British Garden Makers: James Russell 1920-1996' in Country Life Magazine (http://www.countrylife.co.uk/life-in-the-country/great-british-garden-makers-james-russell-1920-1996-24438)
'Obituary: Graham Stuart Thomas' in The Guardian, 2003 (http://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/may/02/guardianobituaries2)