Another Giant Says Goodbye

One of our dearest friends, garden writer Pamela Harper has passed away, early July 14, at age 93. I had the pleasure of visiting her for the final time, seven months earlier, when we enjoyed both chatting indoors, as well as strolling through the garden looking at plants and exchanging plant and people stories.

Pamela J. Harper December 2022

It’s hard to describe what Pam meant to me. She was single handedly responsible for my first major out-of-state speaking engagement, the 1991 Williamsburg Garden Symposium. Through the ensuing years, Pam and her late husband, Pat, welcomed me into their home for the evening on many occasions, where after dinner, we engaged in in-depth discussions on everything from plants to politics. Both were wonderfully kind, thoughtful, and generous to a fault.

Pam and her husband, Pat, arrived from England in 1968, and settled on two acres of Coastal Virginia in the tiny Chesapeake Bay town of Seaford. Not only did she start her amazing trial garden, but she photographed plants and gardens everywhere she traveled. Before long, Harper Horticultural Library was recognized worldwide as the largest horticultural image library in the country.

To build her career, Pam didn’t just knock on wood, she continually shattered glass ceilings. Pam made a living by selling uses of her images, giving presentations across the country, and by writing by both articles and books. Being a woman in a man’s field, Pam held firm to both her prices for both photographs and speaking fees. She felt that someone needed to take a stand for women in the horticulture industry, and she was willing to take the arrows. To say that Pam upset the status quo apple cart would be spot-on. A few “apple cart” vendors brushed her off, but a few others appreciated her honesty, and up front way of doing business. Those who thought they could bully her on these principles never came out on the winning end.

Through the years, Pam authored five gardening books, and took home awards from both GardenComm (formerly Garden Writers Association), and the American Horticultural Society. Most of her books, especially the latter three are still very timely.

*The Story of a Garden – 1972

*Perennials; Howe to Select, Grow, and Enjoy – 1982

*Designing with Perennials – 1991

*Color Echos – 1994

*Time-Tested Plants: 30 Years in A 4 Season Garden – 2000

Pam’s friends will be invited to a celebration of life at her garden on August 12, currently scheduled from 2-5. If you’re interested in attending, you’ll need to email Pam’s son, Nick @ ndharper69@btinternet.com. Please do not show up unaccounced.

Pam’s amazing home and garden will soon go on the market. As I mentioned, this is anything but an abandoned garden. When we visited her around the first of this year, we delivered numerous new plants that she had requested for trial. At that time, the garden looked fabulous. I tend to take specimen photos, but below is an overall image from decades earlier. Her books, especially, Time-tested Plants has a wealth of garden images. If you have any serious interest in the property, please contact Nick at the email above.

Pam Harper Garden 1996

7 thoughts on “Another Giant Says Goodbye”

  1. Maryann Witalec Keyes

    It’s truly sad to lose a long-time friend and colleague. Ms. Harper will certainly be missed. Fortunately, we do have younger people interested in growing plants and sharing their knowledge.

  2. Barbara Pinson

    I am so sorry to hear of her passing…along with Elizabeth Lawrence, Nancy Goodwin, and herself, some of my of my most trusted authors on gardening in the south. She left a wealth of wisdom for the home gardener…what a legacy.

  3. Barbara R Hall

    I am so sad to learn of Pam’s death. She was a lovely person in addition to being a fabulous gardener. Over the years she shared many plants (divisions or rooted cuttings) from her garden with me. Whenever I see those plants in my garden, I will remember her fondly.

  4. Barbara Blossom Ashmun

    I had the pleasure of driving Pamela Harper around Portland, Oregon to see gardens the first time she spoke here to Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. I’d been enamored of her books, and was delighted to spend time with her. Years later we both spoke at a Hardy Plant Society event and I was thrilled to share the program with her. Her books remain in my bookcase and continue to inspire me.

    Barbara Blossom Ashmun

  5. Lady Catherine O'Connor Cole

    So beautifully written. Such an amazing character, to say the least. She let you know what she was thinking with very little filter. It was brutal at times but totally honest…..and spot on! I have been blessed to know her, blessed to visit her garden, and now will plant a tree in my garden in her memory.

  6. Robert Polomski

    Thank you, Tony, for writing this beautiful celebration of her life as a horticulturist, gardener, writer, and entrepreneur.

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