Anyone who is interested in growing houseleeks will almost certainly have come across the name of David Ford. Over a period of 30 years from the late 1960's until the early 1990's David produced and named a large number of beautiful Sempervivum and Jovibarba cultivars. Many of these are now widely distributed and greatly appreciated by those who grow them.
It was with great sadness that I heard that David had died on 10th August 1999.
I first met him in 1980, a few years after I became seriously interested in sempervivums. I had found his address in the Sempervivum Society Membership List so I wrote asking if I could visit him to see his collection. As a result of his reply I made the first of many visits to his home.
I never knew much of David's personal life apart from the few things he mentioned in conversation in between talking about sempervivums. By 1980 I think he was already retired and I seem to remember him saying that he had been a carpenter or decorator by trade. He did not appear to have any family and I remember him saying that he had lived in his house all of his life. His interest in sempervivums began when he was a young boy and lasted throughout his life.
Almost all of his small back garden was set out with staging on which his sempervivum collection was arranged. He even had trays of plants growing on his shed roof, and a step-ladder available if you wanted to see them. Initially he had tubular metal frames fitted to each row of staging which allowed him to cover the plants with polythene sheets during the wettest winter weather. These were later abandoned without any adverse effects on the plants.
The sempervivums were grown in 3" round plastic pots and he had single pots of each variety arranged in alphabetical order. When I first visited he had his whole collection colour coded to show which were British, American and European cultivars. There were also sections for Sempervivum species and for Jovibarba species and cultivars.
In his shed he had a potting bench and a large rack containing hundreds of labels. He made many of these labels by cutting them out of plastic containers. He also had a supply of old Venetian blinds which he cut up for labels. These were painted with the correct colour code prior to having the name of the plant written on them. He told me that he liked to spend his winter evenings preparing labels for the following year.
A railway line ran past the end of his garden so every few minutes a train would pass and for a few seconds conversation would be impossible.
Although David never sold plants as a business he always had large numbers of offsets potted up in small square pots for sale to callers. In 1980 he was charging 15P each for these and the price remained the same until he had to stop in the mid 1990's. In addition to his own raised cultivars he had large numbers of varieties which he had received from sempervivum enthusiasts in other parts the world. In particular, he had many beautiful cultivars which had been raised by Ed Skrocki in the USA.
I visited David once or twice a year for many years and he was always very welcoming. I would arrive at his small terraced house to find that he had placed trestles in the road outside to reserve a parking space. There was a sign on his door bell saying "Please ring hard" because he was partially deaf. A visit usually lasted for several hours and most of this time was spent looking at his collection and selecting plants from the sales benches to take home. After a while David would make a pot of tea and we would sit down in his living room and talk about sempervivums. He invariably had a large plate of sandwiches and a selection of cakes for us to eat..
Communication was not easy because of his deafness but with his life-long experience of growing sempervivums it was always interesting to talk to him. He obviously loved his plants but he was always modest about his new introductions and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. After every visit I would go home with dozens of new plants to add to my collection.
At the time of my last visit in 1996 I was sad to see that his collection was showing signs of deterioration. I believe his eyesight was failing and he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the collection in the condition it was in the past. He told me that a neighbour's dog had got into the garden and done a lot of damage. I don't know how old David was but I would guess he was well into his 80's (Probably 88 - according to C. Versteeg, Netherland) and I think that with his failing health and deteriorating sight this may well have been too great a problem to get over.
I next heard that he had gone completely blind and had passed what little remained of his collection to Alan Smith in Kent. Some time later I wrote to David in the hopes that who ever was looking after him would be able to read the letter to him but in reply I had a letter from one of his neighbours to say that he had died a few weeks before.
The beautiful cultivars which David produced will be a lasting memorial to him and as a friend he will be remembered with great affection.
Cultivars raised and named by David Ford
The following names have been extracted from Martin Miklánek's list of Sempervivum and Jovibarba cultivars: http://members.tripod.com/~miklanek/
|'Bella Meade' * AM-1980||1978|
|'Climax'||1969 or 1975 ?|
|'Comet'||1969 or 1979 ?|
|'Crests Cavo Doro'||1975|
|'El Toro'||1971 or 1974 ?|
|'Omicron'||1970 or 1976?|
|'Regina'||1976 or 1986 ?|
|'Robin'||1976 or 1977 ?|
|'Robin No. 1'||1977|
|'Robin No. 2'||1977|
|'Royale'||1977 or 1985 ?|
|'Sunburst'||1970 or 1979 ?|
|'Valmar'||1976 or 1979 ?|
|'Bronze Ingot' * SR-1975||1975|
|'Bros'||1990 or 1991?|
|'Ritz' (Jovibarba. × Smithii)||1985|
|'Tuxedo' * AM-1980||1978|
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