Submitted by gsparrow on
Betty Mackey

The rock gardening community and NARGS lost a good friend when Rex Murfitt died in August after a brief illness. Born in Leicester, England, in November 1926, he grew up with an interest in horticulture. During World War II, as a youth, he farmed vegetables as part of the war effort. After the war, he was based in Singapore with the British army, though he never considered himself a veteran since he had seen no action. He then returned to England to become a nurseryman.


He studied and worked at the Birch Farm Nursery in Sussex learning from classic masters of rock gardening, Walter Ingwersen and his son Will. Eventually, Rex traveled widely with Will Ingwersen, building rock gardens for clients. The techniques Murfitt learned and passed on to new generations in his articles and books go back to a time before World War I when his teachers were young learners of horticulture.

Later, he worked in large English gardens including John Spedan Lewis’s Hampshire estate. Eventually, he became head gardener to Constance Spry, near Windsor, where she did floral arrangements for the Queen and also had a finishing school for young ladies. He helped develop her white garden, based on the one by her friend Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst Castle. Under famous rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas, he cared for Mrs. Spry’s roses. His next move was to Canada (Victoria, British Columbia) with his wife, Ruth. He worked as a forester and then as a horticulturist. His first two children, Fred and Peter, were born there.

He later moved to Cold Spring on Hudson, New York, to help Frank Cabot start Stonecrop Nurseries, Inc., basing it on traditional English alpine growing methods. Stonecrop is now a public garden and can be reached at While he and his family lived there, his third child, Wendy, was born. Later, he and his family moved back to Victoria where he worked as a horticulturist, creating and hanging great flower baskets all over town. He also started a large rhododendron garden at the University of Victoria. Another Victoria project of his was the Crystal Gardens, a tropical plant and bird attraction.

After retirement, Rex was able to focus on his own extensive alpine house and rock garden, and his lectures, photography, and writing. He was a noted author of many articles on silver saxifrages and other topics for the NARGS Quarterly. He was the co-author of Creating and Planting Garden Troughs with Joyce Fingerut, which was published by B. B. Mackey Books in 1999. It was named a Book of the Year 2000 by the American Horticultural Society. In 2002, he received the Carleton Worth Award for Writing from the North American Rock Garden Society. In 2005 his book, Creating and Planting Alpine Gardens, was published and in 2006 he won an award for writing it from the Garden Writers Association (now called Garden Communicators International), of which he was a member. 

He attended many meetings and events. He always chatted with others with wit and friendliness, whether helping them understand the finer points of rock gardening or just talking about the topics of the day. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends, and everyone who has enjoyed his writing and lectures.

Rex is survived by his daughter Wendy, his son Fred, and his grandson and great-grandchildren, all living in Canada.