Businessman and chairman of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Born. June 5, 1935;

Died: January 20, 2019

SIR PETER Hutchison, who has died aged 83, was a celebrated botanist, and a forward-looking first chairman of the board of trustees of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. He oversaw programmes that ensured the historic gardens became recognised for their academic work – especially conservation and research. He also keenly supported the expansion of the 120-acre gardens in Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon and the successful restoration of its unique Victorian fernery.

As chairman of the Royal Botanic Garden Sir Peter liaised with the dedicated workforce and provided a vision and inspiration for its future - enthusiastically welcoming the expansion and improvement of the facilities for visitors.

He also demonstrated his love of horticulture on his own estate, Broich, Kippen, in west Stirlingshire which he annually opened to the public under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme. He planted many rare species – especially rhododendrons and unusual trees in the wooded Victorian walk through a glorious woodland area beside a burn, a waterfall and over an attractive bridge.

One of his pride and joys at Broich was the historic yew tree. The Great Yew Tree of Brioch is a classic example of ‘layering’. Over many years mature yews bend their branches and take root thus creating a magnificent horticultural phenomenon.

Sir Peter Craft Hutchison of Rossie, 2nd Bt. was the son of Sir James Hutchison of Rossie and Winefryde Craft. His father served with the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War and was given the nickname 'the Pimpernel of the Maquis’ (the French underground movement). After the war he served as MP for Glasgow Central.

Sir Peter Hutchison attended Eton, got a BA at Magdalene College, Cambridge and served with the Queen's Own Lowland Yeomanry.

In 1979 he inherited his father’s baronetcy and joined the family insurance brokers, Hutchison & Craft, whose headquarters were in Glasgow. He was to remain as executive chairman of the firm until he retired in 1996.

He will be principally remembered for his many years of innovative service at the Royal Botanic Garden. From 1985-96, as chairman, he invigorated and enhanced its overall management with a very personal enthusiasm. His love of plants and his detailed knowledge of certain species gained respect not only from the professionals at the Royal Botanic Garden but also from its avid members. He took a keen interest in its important research work and of the plans to introduce younger botanists through outreach programmes.

During his chairmanship, the Royal Botanic Garden made considerable inroads to make itself better known, and understood, by the public. The library was greatly extended to demonstrate the on-going joint research projects entered into with foreign botanists.

With his friend and eminent botanist Peter Cox, of Glendoick Gardens in Perthshire, Sir Peter made hazardous journeys around the world for over 40 years tracking down rare plants in the Himalayas, China, Tibet and Turkey. Many of the species were new or lost to cultivation, indeed, they often saved them from extinction. In 2008 they wrote, Seeds of Adventure, about their dramatic trips: it was acclaimed by botanists and travellers and won many awards. One critic wrote, “The anecdotes are delightful, the photographs of plants, people and views are breath-taking. What an inspiration to us all.”

Peter Cox warmly recalled their friendship and told The Herald, “Peter Hutchison was a very great friend for some 59 years. We went on 16 plant hunting trips together, mostly to China, but also to India, Nepal and Bhutan.

"He had many virtues including a sharp brain, a great sense of humour, a fine travelling companion and the neatest hand writing. Peter was always excellent company and very good at speaking in public. He was an accomplished amateur botanist with a broad knowledge, particularly on trees and shrubs and had a special interest in primulas.”

Sir Peter was associated with many associations in Scotland including the Younger (Benmore) Trust, the Forestry Commission Scotland, the Burrell Collection, the Loch Lomond Trust, British Waterways, the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society and the American Rhododendron Society. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Last year Sir Alastair Muir Russell, the chairman of the Royal Botanic Garden, presented the prestigious RGBE Medal to Sir Peter. Sir Muir spoke of the pioneering work he had done over the years and commented, “A distinguished businessman, botanist and traveller, Sir Peter Hutchison’s accomplishments are significant. This award is hugely well merited.”

Sir Peter Hutchison married Virginia Colville in 1966. She and their son James survive him. James inherits the baronetcy.