Sheila. My alternative mother figure and counsellor.

Calystegia sepium, convolvulus
Granny-pop-out-of-bed, Calystegia sepium (Convolvulaceae) amongst Auntie Sheila’s Anemone japonica.

Sheila. My alternative mother figure and counsellor, there for me when I needed one most. A thoughtful, academic, independent thinker who taught me how to reason, and who’s valued second opinion was always available during the period when my family life was on shifting sands.

Jerry totem Chilean Wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, Scot's pine, Pinus sylvestris - 2
When I was about nine, Sheila taught me about planting a totem tree. My current totem, planted in Brisbane, is a Chilean Wine palm, Jubaea chilensis. Inset: my original totem, a Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, gifted from Sandling, Auntie’s garden in Surrey.


Sheila gifted me a Scots pine seedling from Sandling, her woodland garden in Surrey, when I was about nine. It grew so well it became my totem tree in our family garden in London. I had never thought of a totem tree until Sheila introduced the concept to me. But then again, it was Auntie that introduced me to garden ecology and how best to use plants and garden design to encourage birds, butterflies and pond life. Last time we met, I told her about my totem palm planted in my Brisbane garden, the latest continuation of our connection.

Sheila wanted her children and my sister and I to grow up to be the best version of ourselves possible. When I was accepted to study at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, she grinned from ear to ear. She loved my behind the scenes stories about Kew, and she was delighted when Kew awarded me a scholarship to undertake a botanical expedition to Western Australia. She understood and supported my desire to emigrate.

I always had to be ready for a good quizzing on visits. For over fifty years, gardening has been our strongest connection. We talk botany, the latest research, heritage fruit, garden design, the language of plants, and our shared love of nature and botanical art.

Sheila 3
Auntie chose plants thoughtfully: Aster x frikartii is both mildew-resistant and provides three months of flowers.

We all enjoyed thumbing through the latest catalogues. Like her parents, Sheila enjoyed plant hunting, finding the right variety of plant for the right purpose. Most of the gardening challenges I have been able to help Sheila with were not a consequence of a lack of understanding, she invariably knew what should be done to her sick peach tree, or how to protect favourite plants from hungry deer. My help came from confidence in the best method or technique, plus the occasional bit of heavy labour.

It’s hard to neatly sum up Sheila’s gardening method until I found this picture I took ten years ago in autumn. Auntie’s herbaceous border in her country garden, beautifully composed and thoughtfully planted to provide pollen and nectar, giving birds, butterflies and other insects nourishment just before the long period of winter dormancy. And within its carefully crafted drifts of colour, form and texture, was a flowering bindweed, a wildflower that can easily take over.

I cautioned Sheila about it. She knew the risk and knew it was there because not long before she had removed most of it by hand. But despite its potential for colonising a garden, bringing chaos to order, just a little bit was left and allowed to bloom. Auntie said there should always be the pulse of something wild in suburbia. And especially if it helps bumblebees.

I shall miss our gardening conversations.

RIP, Auntie Sheila.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
1st July 2020

Sheila apple Kames Grieve Malus
Typical Auntie Sheila planting style blending beauty, food, heritage, herbs and something for wildlife. Heritage James Grieve apples underplanted with lemon balm and foxglove.

Messages from my Facebook post:

“A wonderful epitaph for your Aunt Shiela. What a marvellous tale of growth and heritage in your family and fertilising of knowledge through time. thanks so much. RIP Shiela”.
Denise Schade

My condolences to you and your family. Auntie Sheila sounds like she was a comfort and a real anchor for you and it sounds like she understood her importance in your life and the love you had for her.  xoxo
Sarah Bolger

“Jerry, the world needs so many Auntie Sheilas and we are blessed that you connected with her in such a way. Everything she taught you, is teaching us, her plant whispering will live on thru you. Auntie Sheila will remain immortal. I am so sorry for your loss”.
Nia Holtom

“I wish everyone could have an Aunty Sheila ❤️”
Penny Price

What an amazing person who nurtured her garden with love and knowledge. What an influence on you Jerry! ❤️❤️ RIP Sheila.💖”
Zan Bond

“Sad for your loss, what a lovely tribute to a lovely lady”.
Mariann Lynette Clarke

“She must have been so proud of you… ❤”
Marleen Catmull

“Your beautiful words spoke of a genuine bond and love filled with learning, laughter, humour and wit.  Your aunt’s words “Auntie said there should always be the pulse of something wild in suburbia. And especially if it helps bumblebees.” are fabulous and encapsulate all the ideas and encouragement she gifted you Jerry. Please accept my deepest sympathy. 🌺🌸”
Jo Potts

“What a wonderful human to have touched your life and supported you living your dreams. Thank you for sharing those fond memories. I’m sorry for your loss”.
Elizabeth Tuson

“What a beautiful connection. She’s flowing through her flowers and trees, completely at One with Nature/ Heaven now 😇🥰”
Rowan Boag

“Thank you for sharing this photo Jerry and the story behind the photo”.
Scott Ross

“Thank you for sharing your wonderful relationship with Auntie Sheila, I wish you peace and comfort in your own garden, surely a legacy to her profound influence on you”.
Wendy Ezzy

“Such a beautiful story. Aunty Sheila obviously had a wonderful influence on your life. My mum was Sheila also and we bonded together over many happy hours in the garden. Heartfelt condolences 💐💐”
Fillameana Karel

“What a lovely story of a lady so important to your life. My condolences, Jerry”.
Carolyn Lamb

Thats so beautiful and heartwarming. She will always be with you in spirit , in memory and of course in the garden. Your sadness will ease, but her memory will never fade. All the best, Jerry.💝💐🌺 ”
Steph Bretel

“A beautiful tribute, Jerry, to a special lady in your life. The Auntie Sheilas of this world have an impact which reaches beyond the nurturing of others, their gardens and the small things, her legacy lives on in you and the work you do. Sincere condolences ❤️”
Geraldine David

“What a beautiful story about your Auntie Sheila, thank you for sharing, Jerry 💕💕
Andrea Hudson

“Reading your beautiful story about your treasured loved one, I recalled and noticed so many of your special talents. Such a great writer, gardener, scientist, presenter, chef as well. No doubt, many other gifts your humble audience knows nothing of.

Your Auntie coaxing you to do your best had a profound effect. Her influence still radiates and now rewards your audience in many ways.

I would also like to thank her”.
Jemima Sandhurst

“I would love to have visited your Aunties garden. I’m sorry for your loss. Sheila sounds like a very special lady 🦋”
Cathy Searles

“A beautiful story Jerry, like plants people eventually change and deteriorate, but memories live as long as you do”.
Suzanne Lee

“Lovely story. I’ve also had people in my young life that still influence me today 60 years on”.
Paulette Barker

“Thank you for telling us about Sheila – what a great gardening role model! I love the story, especially the bindweed part”.
Debbie Colville Yauch

“So sorry for your loss ❤️”
Elizabeth Munro

“Sad for you, but what a wonderful Aunty and mentor ❤️”
Elaine Phillips

How lucky to have people like your Aunt who are passionate about nature and their gardens…thank you for sharing and safe travels for Sheila 😢💚 xx”
Leisa Pullar

Imagine If every child (and adult) had an Aunty Sheila experience, what a legacy ✅”
Jan Hart

What a beautiful story Jerry, I’m sure you’ll miss her terribly”.
Valerie Biggs

“Sorry for your loss. What a wonderful lady and relationship you write about. Someone who will live on in your gardening”.
Lesley Beshaw

“Beautiful story Darl, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, her legacy is in you for ever🙏🏻”
Kristina Andrew

“A beautiful piece that speaks to my heart. Best wishes to you”
Leanne Mason

“Beautiful, wouldn’t it be lovely if we all had an Aunt Sheila”
Chris Critchell

“Thank you for sharing Auntie Sheila’s lovely blend of gardening know-how and her just allowing nature do her thing. She was a treasure.”
Elizabeth McCardell

“Beautiful tribute Jerry to your Auntie Sheila. Many home gardeners are now receiving the benefits of your serious in-depth knowledge you have gained over the decades,, which Sheila helped to encourage passion into your young mind. I am fortunate to have my mum sharing her passion these days encouraging a number of my siblings into gardening. Some people look to gardening as a release from busy working lives, or large families on the constant run. There is so much peace to be found in our gardens. May Sheila also Rest In Peace”
Andrée Rowden

“Beautiful tribute Jerry, always so sad to lose our elders, I hope your garden brings you peace”
Peta Snell

“My sincerest condolences, Jerry, for the loss of Aunty Sheila. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of her. Take care”.
Kali Anthony

“So sorry for your loss. She would have been very proud of you.”
Robbie Burton

Lovely story about your Auntie Sheila…we miss our oldies”.
Ruth Werner

“Beautiful writing Jerry, thank you. Long live Totem trees”.
Catherine Correll

“It’s so good to have these wonderful memories, which really do help to dilute the pain of loss 🌹”
Anita Pike

“What a wonderful lady, we all need an Aunty Sheila in our lives. Sorry for your loss”.
Suzette Peace

“How wonderful. My dear mama was Sheila”
Elizabeth Connell

“What a beautiful tribute, Jerry”.
Sarah Ferguson

“R.I.P. Aunty Sheila. What a lovely character”.
Robyn Huiskamp

“What a very special person Sheila was and what a lovely bond you had with her”.
Alana Pelly

“Jerry…I am so sorry for your loss! Weren’t you fortunate to have this wonderful Lady in your life…Aunty Sheila will stay with you always. Sincere condolences… 😢😢💜💜💜💜💜”
Glenda Porter

“What wonderful memories of your Auntie Sheila. She will always live in your heart. 💛”
Kay Hayes

Lovely article and glorious final picture with the appletree and foxgloves!! ❣❣”
Isabella Luke

Wow, what a special relationship. ❤️”
Lauren Weston

“You’re always interesting, Jerry – thanks for sharing those lovely memories”
Diane Hogan

“A very special mentor whose influence we all benefit from. 💞
Karen Neilson

“Sorry for your loss, you will see her visit in your garden journeys and remember what she taught you”.
Sylvia Leigh

“Grand genes. Sorry for your loss. What a brilliant woman. Love the wild bit”.
Sherida Keenan

“Our deepest sympathy for your loss but what an inspiring concept to have a family totem plant, for me it is bottle trees & I have left a path of them behind throughout life but never really thought about it. I love this concept and what memories for those we leave behind”.
Sue Priddle

“What a wonderful tribute to a special lady.”
Anne Cattermole

“What a wonderful connection, so sad for everyone but what a legacy. I’m sure she will always be with you in spirit and in heart and thoughts”.
Sherryn Sparks

“Beautiful, Jerry”.
Ceci Lee

“A beautiful story of a beautiful soul 🌸”
Catherine O’Connell

“God bless a special special woman 💖”
Chrissy Ford

“Wonderful u could share.”
Elizabeth N Rhys Thomas

“Sending love and hugs. How lucky to have such a person in your life.🌻🌻🌻”
Annie Kavanagh

“God bless always, Jerry. So sad for your loss”.
Pam Oxley

“Condolences to you Jerry. Weren’t you so fortunate to have met this wonderful lady. She changed your life. May she RIP.”
Maggie Krivoshow

“Lovely. Grandma was like that”.
Rosemary Lynch

“Beautiful memories”.
Lorraine Jessup

“Biggest hugs”
Pietro Jo Di

“Lovely memories, wonderful legacy”.
Stephen Halloway

Alison Ray Woo

“Some people plant things, others plant things and sow the seeds of wonder in young people so they grow into being gardeners. I hope your memories of Auntie Sheila bring much comfort to you, Jerry. A remarkable woman. May she rest in peace”.
Juda Bacon

“Your Auntie Sheila must have been an amazing person! How lucky you were to have her in your life. I love her gardens, especially the windflowers. Bless her, and you too Jerry.
Belinda Robertson

“My condolences to you Jeremy on the loss of your beloved aunt. I had an Auntie Sheila equivalent who was my gardening inspiration and on lots of other fronts too. Her name was Nancy Clift from Mildura, Victoria. She past away recently and will be missed by many people, especially her fellow gardeners”.
Tamara Leabeter

“What a great aunt to have, Auntie Sheila would have been a big influence in your life. 💕”
Robyn Mitchell

“We are one with our gardens and every plant to me represents life . Sorry to see this post and hope you are well . Enjoy your garden for her and plant a special plant for her”.
Lorraine Taylor

“Thank you for sharing such an intimate and deeply felt family history story-what a fine influence your Aunty was 🌸”
Anna Hahn

“Sad for your loss, but glad she was part of your life!”
Fiona White

“Ahh, your Auntie Sheila…l remember how much you both loved her Jerry. But what a wonderful woman and inspiration she was… Bless her and bless you my dear 🌺🌹🌹Xxx”

Katrina Pancucci

“Sheila would be very happy and proud to read this xx”
Cathryn Williams


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Caroline McDonald says:

    What great memories, Jerry. Sheila sounds like a wonderful and encouraging influence in your life. What a treasure. So sad for your loss. Her memory will whisper to you through the leaves. xx

  2. says:

    Thank you Jerry, for sharing this story

  3. Margaret Saxelby says:

    So sorry for your loss

  4. Patty Munro says:

    Dear Jerry, It is a lovely story about your Aunt Sheila. How lucky to have had such a wonderful person in your life. Thanks for sharing your story. Love, Patty

  5. Oh Jerry. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss 😭 Sheila sounds like a treasure of a human being and she’ll definitely live on ❤️

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