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Tribute to Garden and Horticulture icon Frank Cabot

Frank Cabot’s spirit and genius will remain forever among
all those who love and admire and respect plants.
Mr. Cabot left this world November 21, 2011 and, as I Tweeted at that time, Mr. Cabot surely took a garden journey to “The Greater
It took three-plus extraordinary horticultural institutions
to honor the always larger than life, icon of all things horticultural: Frank
On Monday, April 30, 2012, The
New York Botanical Garden
(NYBG) and Wave
co-hosted, a The Garden
tribute to Cabot.
The private memorial was held at NYBG, filling the Arthur
and Janet Ross lecture hall with friends, family, and admirers of this great
friend of gardens. 
The guests from Manhattan, were already greeting one another
and chatting breezily on the train up to NYBG and the walk to the Garden on the
impossibly clear and warm afternoon for the reflection on Cabot’s “new way of
thinking about gardens in America.”
In the foyer, guests were checked in quickly; Frank’s books and
the “Les Quatre Vents” DVD were available for sale. 
There was continued happy hellos and seating courtesies, and soon, Envisioning a Greater Perfection was
Antonia Adezio, President of The Garden Conservancy, the institution
Cabot founded at the suggestion of his wife, Anne, welcomed the guests to the
tribute and introduced Gregory Long, president of NYBG who welcomed all to the
Garden and spoke a bit about Cabot’s contribution to NYBG and to horticulture.
Antonia Adezio, President of the Garden Conservancy opens the Frank Cabot tribute
Angela Lansbury, a friend of Anne’s from childhood and an
honorary chair, the Garden Conservancy, spoke next.  
Angela Lansbury pays tribute to Cabot
She told us she was on that first garden visit
to the The Ruth Bancroft Garden
with the Cabots. This was the seminal moment, we were told, when Cabot lamented
how sad and regrettable it would be to lose an extant garden like the
Cabot & Lansbury were garden friends
Anne Cabot chided him to do something about it and to the
endless gratitude of garden lovers, he did. 
The Garden Conservancy was launched. 
And with a garden angel like Cabot winging the organization’s
development and inspiration, there was no doubt it would be a success.  
Envisioning a Greater Perfection
The Garden Conservancy Tribute to Frank Cabot was a 90-minute
reflection presented by leading horticulturists, friends and family, followed
by a wine reception in the Garden Terrace Room.
The guests were each given a lovely program with the day’s
agenda plus quotes from other garden enthusiasts and luminaries including Mac
Griswold and Paula Deitz.  The program is
a very nice remembrance and a collectable.
Barbara Paul Robinson spoke after Ms. Lansbury. An attorney
by profession, Robinson worked for Penelope Hobhouse, the National Trust and
Rosemary Verey, and her book on Verey is due out shortly: Rosemary Verey: The Life and Lessons of a Legendary
Robinson also pointed out that Verey bequeathed her garden
design plans to NYBG.  What a coup.  Lobbying of a sort was launched by her
suggestion that the Garden install a Verey garden design for the public to
experience and learn from.  Got my vote.
Robinson described how both Verey and Hobhouse admired and
adored Cabot.
Hobhouse just wasn’t able to make the trip from England, so
Robinson read the letter the garden legend wrote for Hortus magazine that
honored Cabot and his garden vision.  She
noted how Frank seemed like an immortal. His design sense and plant knowledge
were on full display at Les Jardins de Quatre Vents Quatre
She wrote about what she considered his most ambitious
private garden construction since World War II and how it could be a dangerous
drive with Frank when plants were on his mind, penning, “He almost worshipped
The next five speakers are all plants-people and spoke of
their relationship to Cabot, “painting a picture of Frank in the firmament of
plants and horticulture.”
Dan Hinkley
Dan Hinkley,
founder of Heronswood
the much-loved and respected Washington State plant nursery spoke
Hinkley quoted T. Robbins, “Passion is the genesis of
genius” paraphrasing, he said, to his North Michigan lexicon to mean, “Go big,
or go home!”
In soft and frequent emotional tones, Hinkley described
meeting Cabot at his home garden, Stonecrop, and how that visit permanently
determined his future. 
Cabot evidenced a passion for the “wants and needs of the
plants vs. the garden,” he explained.
Hinkley said his back grew weary carrying forth Cabot and
his Les Quatre Vents inspiration….
“And no singing frogs at Heronswood, though” he said to more
Hinkley shared a touching insight into Cabot’s passion for plants;
telling a story about walking in a cool Japanese ravine, filled with lilies and
primrose.  “Frank stooped to pick one
flower, held aloft to admire the sepal, design and fragrance. 
“He was alone in the moment – seeing the universe in that
moment. It is a moment of a true plantsman and showed his passion for life.”
Hinkley said.
Marco Polo Stufano,
founding director of horticulture at Wave Hill, a hobbit of a gardener, happily
fuddled with his slides, the mere presence of which made him an anachronism, he
Stufano declared, “Gardening is one of the fine arts.”
He told his Cabot garden stories in pictures and spoke
glowingly of Cabot’s dedication to enduring design.
“He painted a garden with living materials,” said Stufano.
Good garden design is filled with repeated failure, he
offered to much head-nodding. “Good gardeners kill plants,” he added.  Gardens are trial and error, and plans must
be thought of in decades not immediate gratification.  The enjoyment of creating a garden is the
point of it all…
Stufano showed a number of the Garden Conservancy’s garden
network, including Peckerwood Garden
Burgess showing Cabot working at Stonecrop
Caroline Burgess,
director of Stonecrop
, once the home of Anne and Frank Cabot, but since 1992, a public
garden and a school of practical horticulture under Burgess’ leadership.  
A British national, Burgess provided the most fun and
intimate profile of Cabot, starting with how she placed a phone call – from one
of those red London phone booths, I imagine, saying Rosemary suggested she
contact Frank for help networking a job at Wave Hill — He has connections,”
she told Burgess.
He could possibly help getting her work in the States. 
Burgess worked up the courage, and with a few coins, placed
the call to Mr. Cabooo, she said in her high-pitched Downton Abbey high tea
With all the juggling of the phone on Cabot’s end, she was
soon running out of money.
Just in time, Cabot said, “Give me your number. I will call
you back,” he commanded.  Then said, “And
FYI, in America, we say CaboT,” she mimicked, emphasizing the “T.”
Cabot added, “But please call me Frank.” 
The audience roared with laughter.
When she picked up the receiver for the return call from
Cabot, he told her to forget Wave Hill and come to work directly for him at the
their home estate, Stonecrop garden. 
She did.
She described that the Cabot estate was being nurtured by
Frank and Anne who had taken an adult education course at NYBG, titled, “How to
Improve Your Yard.”
She paused for emphasis and sent the guests into much
endearing laughter for the sheer charm of that anecdote.
She added, “Obviously, that was quite a good course!”
sending the audience back into peals of laughter.
Burgess related examples of Cabot’s kindness, plant
knowledge, and hort networking. “He was a genius at placing people – and plans,
“ she said.
Over the years, he wrote her countless letters of support
and inspiration.
She cited one delightful letter in particular when he wrote
her early on to encourage her to move to New York, quoting a 1909 song that
preached, “Heaven will protect the working girl!”
It gave her confidence, she smiled. 
I think there is a book waiting to be written with these
letters into the heart and mind of the relationship between Burgess and Cabot
and the gardens.
“Frank was a jokester, a comedian and a great cook,” she
noted, launching into a story about his winning a Blue Ribbon at a local plant
show for his dead plant, vomitas
!”   The guests roared with
laughter at this one.
“He was so good at so many things and we are most fortunate
he chose plants as his overarching passion,” she concluded while showing images
of some of Cabot’s favorite plants including double hepatica and the blue
Dick Lighty,
founding director of Mt.Cuba Center began his advocacy-themed tribute to Cabot
with a Disraeli quote about the man and the time to get things done, that
served as a context for Cabot’s personal character and traits that made him so
Dick Lighty
“Frank believed in public gardens and served on many boards
and offered his support to help the gardens achieve stewardship,” said Lighty.
“He was a sought-after speaker on this topic.”
Frank was the epitome of the gentleman gardener, noted
Colin Cabot,
chairman, Stonecrop Gardens, and son of Frank and Anne Cabot was the last
speaker of the day, and provided a robust, rousing tribute and a few fun
reflections, all delivered in a theatrical and poignant way.  Colin looks like the quintessential prep
school lad and full of spunk and style. 
Colin Cabot
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 
Colin began with a quote from “Candide” to reference Les Quartre
Vents and the idea of  maintaining
gardens.  Saying, “Voltaire agreed, ‘Let
us cultivate our gardens’ We too must take care of this earth,” Colin said.
“Frank had a visceral response to plants,” Colin observed.
“He could weep at their beauty and ephemeral quality.”
“This passion could also lead to botanical excess,” Colin
remarked. And then he told the story about how the New Zealand Cabot home came
about after Frank saw plants he loved it was suggested he visit the island
nation.  “A common suggestion can take a
permanent life change when it came to Frank…”
Colin also told how his father insisted on preparing the
soil and digging in for a row of thuja hedge plantings, evidencing patience and
practicality in his quest for perfection.
On a humorous aside, Colin noted how all their dogs were
named after single malt scotches, Dalwhinnie being a favorite (mine too J
 Not the dog, but the scotch.)
When he and his father took overnight plant explorations,
Frank was known to bring a rasher of bacon, cast iron pans and a bottle or two
of wine and scotch, to be enjoyed during cocktail hour, thus achieving a
gastronomic and artistic level of perfection!
Colin completed his prideful reflection of garden love with
a few pronouncements that are sure to keep
Frank Cabot’s vision alive:
To respect the vision
To inherent the legacy
To inhabit – to get to know the land
To invest in the gardens well-being (I won’t ask
for a check today – but “Just you wait,” he bellowed affectionately.
To interpret – to keep the gardens in good hands
Antonia thanked everyone.
Todd Forrest, vice president of Horticulture at NYBG invited
everyone to take advantage of the peak blooms in the Azalea Garden before
heading to the wine reception in the Garden Terrace Room.
I scooted over.
It was a perfection that Frank would have loved. 
The garden was brilliant: the colors, the planting, and the
chirp of chipmunks and birds were otherworldly.
The reception was lighthearted and gave the guests a chance to share garden stories about Frank Cabot and springtime, renewal tales. 
Susan Cohen, Landscape Architect, Coordinator of NYBG Landscape Design program

Garden Author extraordinaire, Ken Druse (L) Latest is gorgeous & practical, “Natural Companions”
HSNY’s brilliant director, George Pisegna, (L) & Nathan Lamb, Stonecrop manager
Garden writer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (L) & curator & author, Magda Salvesen
Following the reception, the bus was filled to take guests
to Wave Hill for a private a garden re-dedication ceremony in honor of Frank Cabot.
Note: I have a priceless photograph of Mr. Cabot and me from
an NYBG event that, initially, I was a bit reticent to share. However after
telling the story about it with Colin at the reception, I think it will be just
All good fun. Up next…

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