Lead photo: Burnt-tip orchid, Knocking Hoe NR 2018 © Mary Sarre
Many of us were shocked and saddened last week to hear of the death of Mary Sarre after a long battle with cancer. We send Phil and the family our love and sympathy.
Mary and Phil have been members of the Society for a long time now. Since Roy our President has taken a back seat as our botanical expert we came to rely increasingly on Mary’s in-depth knowledge on all things to do with plants. She has also been a valued committee member for many years (always a quiet voice of reason) and did a great job as our summer programme secretary until ill health forced her to stand down earlier this year. We are so grateful for all she did for the Society.
I first met Mary, a qualified garden designer, when I had recently qualified in the same profession over 20 years ago. She was generous in her advice and support and it was good to share our passion for garden plants and our experiences when designing gardens for clients. I was keen to introduce wilder elements in my designs as Chris Baines and others were beginning to promote gardening with wildlife in mind – it was an exciting time!
We then lost touch for a few years as I changed careers to work in local schools (that is another story) but when Mary and Phil started to come along to MKNHS meetings it was lovely to see her more regularly. Phil has been the warden of Little Linford Wood for many years and I occasionally joined the work parties at the weekends creating coppiced clearings to open up the wood for the plants and insects etc. I always seemed to manage to get to the one just before Christmas where Mary would turn up along with their two lovely black labradors with hot drinks and mince pies. They always welcomed me even though I wasn’t really a regular!
I have been helping as an assistant editor on our website and Mary had sent me several articles for the website recently including a fascinating piece she had written about mistletoe.
The day after receiving the incredibly sad news of her passing I was walking in Salcey and I looked up and saw a tall tree with several large bunches of mistletoe in its crown and there guarding one of these bunches was a mistle thrush (living up to its name). It felt like a strange coincidence as I have never seen mistletoe in Salcey before, but it is at this time of the year that the lime green bunches becomes more obvious as the trees shed their leaves. However the sight was a comfort at a sad time. Nature is a great healer and I hope it helps Phil and the rest of their family to remember the happier times with Mary. They had so many wonderful holidays in their second home up in the Pyrenees and many other beautiful parts of the world.
If others in the Society would like to share their memories of Mary on our website then please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
From Jenny Mercer
Mary Sarre, July 1945-November 2021
In the natural world and in gardening, Mary worked with vigour to show the goodness and beauty of the world.
She showed us much.
She knew and taught us much.
She drew nature
landscapes with trees
still life with flowers
She made maps and drafted garden designs which she highlighted in watercolours.
She showed us all kindness and encouraged us to do more in our lives.
She will be missed by me, and by many.
We value all you gave us.
You taught us many things about life and how to live it, and now you have shown us how to die courageously.
Your voice in our hearts and our love for you remain, and your voice in our heads will keep on challenging and encouraging us to love nature and each other.
From Sue and Andrew Hetherington
The news of Mary’s death has come as a dreadful bolt out of the blue to us, we had no idea that Mary was even ill. As relative newcomers, we have no long back history of stories and anecdotes about Mary but we know she was the go-to expert for all botanical questions. I recall the mistletoe article Julie Lane has mentioned. Mary wrote about seeing more of it around Milton Keynes and wanted people to tell her about new sightings. I’ve been keeping a look out ever since and corresponded with her at the time. We confided in each other that apart from the purely botanical aspect we were fascinated with the mystery and pagan aspects of this strange plant (or should I say hemiparasite) Thus when Julie Lane “posted” her mistletoe and mistle thrush sighting in Salcey on the Society’s facebook page, it was Mary that came first to my mind. Unlike Julie, I had no idea of what had happened at that time so it feels like even more of a strange coincidence that it made me think of Mary.
We will miss Mary very much and the Society will be all the poorer for her absence. I shall keep looking out for mistletoe and whenever I see it I shall give a nod to Mary’s memory, I wish I could actually tell her about it though! We send love and sympathy to Phil, the family and all who knew and loved Mary.
Sue and Andrew Hetherington
From Mervyn Dobbin
Over many years, our paths crossed in different settings. These included: during Mary’s
involvement with the City Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey; as a consultant on garden
design at the Milton Keynes Quaker Centre; and as a member of Milton Keynes Natural
At one point, I appointed her to advise me on planting for my own garden. Together, but
with her guidance, we prepared the ground and dug in the spots where the new shrubs and
trees were to be positioned. This working together with her oversight, is a warm memory to
reflect on. The pride–of–place in the garden is the winter flowering cherry, which every year
without fail, produces an array of pink blossoms. The small flowers have recently appeared
again, a colourful canopy against the sky, to brighten up the darker days of this 2021 winter.
Mary in her personal relationships always conveyed a reassuring, non–judgemental
acceptance of others. She was a gentle presence.
Thank you Mary.
From Linda Murphy
My memories of Mary always take me to Society evening and weekend summer walks, in a variety of locations, especially Pilch Field. No matter where we have been, there are always plants to look at and identify, some common, some much rarer and exciting, but many of them easy to confuse with other species. Mary was never taken in by a quick glance. She knew what features to look for and quietly and patiently checked them out to ensure an accurate record of what had been found. She always had a field guide and hand lens, but more importantly, knew how to use them! As Julie says, in recent years we increasingly turned to her for help with plant identification and ‘what do you think this is, Mary?’ became a regular question. But she didn’t just ‘tell us the answer’. She would gently discuss the options using the field guide, looking at leaf shape, stems, hairiness etc. and making comparisons, asking questions of us, too, in a non-judgemental way that put people at ease and avoided anyone feeling they’d asked a silly question. Jenny has talked about how much Mary knew and showed us, and I for one will be thinking of her and remembering her as I look at plants again next season, still hearing her voice in my head and trying hard to live up to her example, to continue plant recording in her memory.
Thank you Mary.