Ronald William Sidwell (1909-1993) was a horticulturalist, gardener, teacher and writer, whose most significant horticultural work was in the identification of plum varieties by their stones.
Ron Sidwell was born at Coventry in 1909, the second of two sons of Ernest and Mary Sidwell; his father was the manager of a motor company. At the time of the 1911 census, they were living at 182 Broad Street, Coventry. Ron left school at 15 in 1924 and obtained a post as a garden boy on a large estate belonging to the publisher and newspaper proprietor, the first Lord Iliffe, at Allesley near Coventry. He worked in the greenhouses, producing flowers for the conservatory. One of four gardeners, by the age of 16 he was acting head gardener. It was a great disappointment throughout his life that he had not had the opportunity of a university education but he set about teaching himself botany and horticulture from the shelves of the library in Coventry and gained a (Higher?) National Diploma in Horticulture. He married Marjorie Hickman in 1938.
Ron Sidwell moved to Evesham in 1941, working as a District Horticulture Officer in 'War Ag' (the precursor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries). He then became a technical adviser to Littleton and Badsey Growers, a position that was to establish his name and reputation amongst the market-gardeners of the Vale. In 1948, Ron and Marjorie moved to Bredon Springs which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. They chose to live there because of the superb quality of the soil. He would work for hours in the garden before he left for his job, and then work again for hours after he returned home at night.
From 1954-1960, he was Vice-Principal at Pershore Institute of Horticulture. He was always very supportive of students; it was with regard to student issues which led to a dispute with the Institute and resulted in him losing his job. Ron Sidwell then turned to writing and consultancy and lectured on a part-time basis at Kew and for the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Bristol. He wrote many articles for The Evesham Journal and for magazines and published two books: West Midland Gardens, published by Alan Sutton, and Flowers of the Two Elizabeths, in collaboration with Margaret Tarran. He packed an immense amount of work into each day. In addition to the various posts he held throughout his life, Ron privately conducted meticulous research into plum and apple varieties. He discovered that stones in the case of plums, and pips in the case of apples could be used to identify varieties. If he had had the backing of an educational establishment, Ron’s work would probably have merited a PhD.
For many years, he opened his garden every week during the spring and summer for the National Gardens Scheme. Ron was a great evangelist for the natural garden. His philosophy was: “If a plant grows over the path, don’t cut it back – move the path.” It was a philosophy that enabled the garden to be a calm, relaxing place. His garden was included in a book by Rosemary Verey, Secret Gardens, and Ron was also the subject of a television programme produced by John Archer for the BBC. Earlier in his life, Ron regularly appeared in radio programmes alongside Percy Thrower.
Ron Sidwell died in 1993, his wife having pre-deceased him in 1977. He had no immediate family, and so appointed his neighbour and friend of 30 years, Margaret Satchell, as executor of his will. When clearing out the house, Margaret felt that she could not just throw out the many documents which she found relating to Ron’s horticultural work, so she retained several box files and carrier bags of documents which she thought might be of use to someone. The documents lay dormant for 17 years until a chance conversation occurred between Margaret and a Badsey Society member, Jane Croucher, about Jane’s participation in The Badsey Society’s Last Market Gardener Project. Margaret told Jane that she had a large number of documents which might be of relevance to the market gardening project and was keen to give them to an organisation which would appreciate Ron’s life work. In 2010, The Badsey Society gratefully accepted the Ron Sidwell horticultural archive which includes the following main categories of items: