Tributes to Alistair Buchanan ‘family representative’ of Nymans Gardens

Tributes are being paid to Alistair Buchanan who helped restore his family seat - Nymans - into a leading garden attraction after the Great Storm of 1987.

Alistair, who died on May 6 aged 85, was appointed ‘Family Representative’ of Nymans just days before the storm by his cousin, the Countess of Rosse - mother of Lord Snowdon.

The estate of Nymans at Handcross was passed to the National Trust in 1953.

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Rebecca Graham, Natinal Trust senior collections and house officer at Nymans worked with Alistair, a former banker, for 20 years.

Topiary at Nymans was cared for by Alistair Buchanan. Photo: Clive Nicholls

Here she reflects on his legacy, based on his memoirs which were published shortly before he died.

“Alistair Buchanan became the Messel Family Representative on October 13 1987 – three days before the Great Storm which caused so much devastation in the south east.

“He arrived at Nymans as soon as he could get there, having to park on the A23 and walk the rest of the way, picking his way over fallen trees.

“His first task was to ensure that his cousin, Anne the Countess of Rosse, was safe and well and having done that he surveyed the damage, trying to restore morale to the devastated garden team.

“Together with the National Trust’s garden advisor, John Sales, and head gardener David Masters, Alistair set about making plans for the replanting which would take 10 years to complete.

“In 1988 Alistair decided to focus fully on Nymans, renovating a flat in the stable block for his use.

“He single-handedly cleared and maintained the Forecourt Garden and Knot Garden when they were reserved for the private use of the Countess of Rosse and after she died he oversaw the sale of some of the contents of the house before it was opened to visitors.

“His financial acumen meant that he was an invaluable advisor to the National Trust team and the property thrived under his stewardship.

“Alistair had a particular love of topiary and until last year’s lockdown he cut the Nymans topiary himself.

“He planted a grove of Davidia - handkerchief trees - with an array of box bushes beneath.

“In these he would create abstract shapes which children delight in running in and out of.

“From his flat in the stable block he was able to rise before dawn to start cutting before visitors arrived in the garden and would resume in the evening when everyone else had left.

“One of Alistair’s long held dreams was to create a garden within the ruined part of the house at Nymans.

“The ‘Garden in the Ruins’ , though not yet open to visitors, has now been planted with camellia, rhododendron and magnolia including important Messel hybrids.

“One of these is Eucryphia Nymans Silver which Alistair discovered himself after the 1987 storm.

“We remain grateful for the help and expertise he gave us at Nymans over his many years of working with us.”