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Press release

National Trust saddened to hear of passing of John Sales, formerly Head of Gardens for nearly 30 years

Former National Trust Head of Gardens, John Sales
Former National Trust Head of Gardens, John Sales | © Courtesy Unicorn Publishing Group

The National Trust is saddened to hear the news of the passing of John Sales, who was the charity’s former Head of Gardens for nearly three decades. He died peacefully on 29 December 2022, at the age of 89.

After studying for the National Diploma in Horticulture at Kew, John was senior horticulture lecturer at Writtle College and a Pershore College governor. He was also a Chelsea Flower Show judge and national diploma examiner for the Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Gardens committee member and a recipient of the Victoria Medal of Honour.

He joined the National Trust in 1971, succeeding influential horticulturist and rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas as Head of Gardens. John’s contribution to the gardens, parklands and gardeners of the National Trust has been hugely significant.

National Trust Director General Hilary McGrady said: “With love and passion, he created and curated spaces where people, stories and nature can meet. His work continues to flourish, enhancing millions of lives each year.”

John saw gardens as continuous processes, reflecting that the success of a garden restoration could be judged by ‘the extent to which it picks up and carries forward the thread of the past.’ For him, the gardeners were vital assets whose skills and passion, alongside design, situation and planting, could give delight, satisfaction and enjoyment through nurturing the gardens.

John inspired many hundreds of gardeners to develop their enthusiasm through the transformation that many gardens experienced, as they moved from private ownership to National Trust custodianship. He helped to manage this process of constant change and through his compassionate leadership he repaired, cared for and renewed countless garden spaces, reinvigorating some of the UK’s most significant landscapes. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye, he would embrace everyone around him to care for Trust places.

John’s patient dedication and eye for detail has ensured that the UK’s historic gardens and parklands have rightly been recognised for their contribution to European culture. Through his revered work, he embraced conservation professionalism and brought such disciplines as Conservation Plans into the Trust's work, to ensure the long-term care of its gardens.

National Trust Head of Gardens and Parklands, Andy Jasper, said: "He was brilliant to work with and in his lifetime John supported the development of thousands of careers cultivated through his passion, his infectious love of people from all walks of life and his dedication to the staff and volunteers of the National Trust.

“John’s unique vision and deep wisdom made him a natural north to the learning compass of so many in the world of horticulture. It is hard to imagine not having his guidance and support, and no longer to be able to call upon his sure ability to point us in the right direction. John will be sorely missed.

“To find a glorious monument to John Sales, one only has to walk into any National Trust garden and look around to see the legacy he has left our nations.”

An oak tree is to be planted at one of his favourite places, Glendurgan in Cornwall, in memory of the great John Sales.