Francis Cabot

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Francis Cabot

Francis Cabot, who has died aged 86, was a financier by profession and a horticulturalist by disposition, creating two of North America’s best-known contemporary gardens and helping to preserve many others for future generations.

Francis Cabot

6:33PM GMT 20 Dec 2011

Francis Higginson Cabot was born in Manhattan on August 6 1925 into a New York branch of one of Boston’s most eminent families; his father was a vice-president of the engineering and investment firm Stone & Webster who had retired in 1929 aged 42, selling up two months before the Wall Street Crash.

Despite America’s great spirit of meritocracy, the old families of the East Coast maintain an aura of social exclusivity. There is a famous verse which goes: “And this is good old Boston, / The home of the bean and the cod, / Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, / And the Cabots talk only to God.”

Having attended St Bernard’s and Groton Schools in New York, Francis Cabot served in the Signal Corps after the end of the Second World War with the US Army in France and Japan before going to Harvard to take a BA in General Studies, graduating in 1949.

He then joined his father’s old firm, Stone & Webster, as an executive assistant, and in 1959 became a partner at Train, Cabot & Associates, an investment and venture capital firm. By the time he decided to retire young, in 1976, gardens and horticulture had already become his chosen escape from the demands of his career. His first passion was for alpine rock plants, on which he became an authority.

From the late 1950s Cabot and his wife, Anne, lived at Stonecrop, at Cold Spring, New York State. There they created a fine 12-acre garden comprising, among other features, woodland and water gardens, an alpine house, rock gardens, and borders in the English style.

Cabot also developed extensive gardens at Les Quatre Vents, at La Malbaie in Quebec, an estate that had been associated with his family since the mid-19th century. He inherited it in 1965, and it became a project to which he devoted himself with sensitivity and passion, spending the next 30 years transforming the landscape . There is a Japanese garden; a white garden, inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s creation at Sissinghurst; a rose garden; rock garden; kitchen garden; pavilions, sculptures, topiary and a pigeonnier.

In 2001 Cabot published The Greater Perfection: The Story of the Gardens at Les Quatre Vents, which was described by The Oxford Companion to the Garden (2006) as “one of the best books ever written about the making of a garden by its creator”.

Cabot founded, in 1989, the Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organisation based at Cold Spring to help to preserve America’s finest private gardens. Perhaps because of its more extreme climate, Americans do not have the same tradition of gardening as the British. Cabot was interested in trying to “educate the American palate”, to bring what he saw as an art form to the attention of a wider public.

While there are regional organisations in America devoted to preserving historic gardens, Cabot was particularly concerned to secure the future of contemporary examples that might be lost after the deaths of their creators.

Since its foundation, his organisation has helped to preserve some 100 gardens, among them the one at Alcatraz prison , which had been tended by the inmates and their guards.

Cabot also set up the Aberglasney Restoration Trust to rescue and restore the 16th-century gardens at Aberglasney House in Carmarthenshire in Wales. His contribution was not only financial; he also helped with the design and layout of the gardens.

Cabot was chairman of the New York Botanical Garden from 1973 to 1976. In 2005 he was appointed an honorary Member of the Order of Canada for his work as a conservationist, horticulturist and philanthropist. He received the Gold Veitch Memorial Award of the Royal Horticultural Society.

He loved singing, and co-founded, in 1946, the Harvard a cappella singing group The Krokodiloes, which continues to this day .

Francis Cabot married, in 1949, Anne Perkins, who survives him with their son and two daughters.

Francis Cabot, born August 6 1925, died November 19 2011