MARY Rose Spiller, the first female presenter of BBC TV series Gardeners’ World, has died at the age of 95.

Miss Spiller was born and raised in a house in Cowley that was built by her grandfather who was once a landlord of The Old Tom pub in St Aldate’s.

Her parents were Reginald Spiller, a crystallographer at Oxford University, and his wife Olive.

Miss Spiller had a ‘lovely upbringing’ with her sister in the countryside and was always interested in gardening as well as wildlife.

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She attended a convent school in Temple Cowley and Milham Ford school in Headington.

Her nephew, Andrew Corser said: “She liked messing about on boats. She and my mum used to punt a lot – the whole family did.”


During World War Two she did not want to follow other women by becoming a nurse or teacher, but instead wanted to work at the Women’s Land Army.

However her father did not approve and he discovered Waterperry School of Horticulture, in Wheatley and she ended up going there to study in 1942, beginning her career in the gardening world.

She boarded there during the week for two years under Beatrix Havergal, who established the school, before she worked at Waterperry Gardens.

In her memoir, Miss Spiller wrote that Miss Havergal was ‘quite an imposing’ figure but that she took got on very well with her.

Miss Spiller was a gardener, planner, manager and teacher, from 1963 until her retirement at the age of 90 in 2013.

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She was horticultural manager at Waterperry Gardens from 1975 until 1990.

Miss Spiller spent some time as a self-employed gardener working across the country where she worked in places such as Yorkshire, Cornwall and Wales.

The gardener wrote two books; one entitled ‘Growing Fruit’ and the other about how to get rid of weeds called ‘Weeds: search and destroy: the easy way to identify, control and eliminate troublesome weeds’.

Although Miss Spiller was never married, as ‘the right person never came along', she had a vision of having 11 children – ‘enough to make a cricket team’.


Mr Corser said: “She was very close to us as children. She would take us to Waterperry out on the river. She wrote books for my little boys and was always very involved with children.”

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One of Miss Spiller's horticultural passions was alpines, but she was known as a rounded horticulturist and was awarded the RHA Associateship of Honour in July 2008.

Even when Miss Spiller retired, she still taught gardening.

Mr Corser said: “She carried on gardening and was involved with Friends of Waterperry where she still consulted with things that were going on at the Gardens till the end.”

Jane Clifford, Miss Spiller's niece, said: "She was devoted to, loved and will be missed by her surviving sister (Betty Corser) and three generations of cousins, nephews and nieces, along with many, many friends whose lives she touched and influenced."

Miss Spiller passed away in hospital on Sunday, October 27, after a short illness. Mr Corser said: “She was really with it right until the end. She was visited by all her family and many of her friends in Oxford.”