Franziska Reed Huxley; Champion for Gardening

Franziska Reed Huxley volunteered at the National Arboretum.
Franziska Reed Huxley volunteered at the National Arboretum. (Friends Of The National Arboretum)
By Adrian Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Franziska Reed Huxley, an ebullient promoter of gardening for more than 30 years in Washington, died Sept. 4 at a hospital in Portland, Maine.

Mrs. Huxley, 64, suffered a heart attack a day earlier at her daughter's home in nearby South Portland. She had been in Maine to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed this summer.

Mrs. Huxley led tours for the Smithsonian Institution to gardens in the Washington region as well as the Delaware Valley, and each March took groups through the Philadelphia Flower Show.

As a board member of the Friends of the National Arboretum, she organized an annual weekend plant sale in April at the arboretum that became one of the largest events of its kind on the East Coast, drawing thousands of homeowners in search of novel plants at bargain prices.

Widely traveled and keen-eyed with a passion for good gardens, she could describe plants and their settings in enthusiastic detail. She once went wild for a blue flowering shrub she saw in England called ceanothus.

"Every plant has some kind of story," she told the New York Times. "They are not just things growing in a pot. They're almost as good as people."

Mrs. Huxley developed encyclopedic knowledge of temperate woody and herbaceous plants and worked as a freelance garden writer and editor. In the early 1990s, she served as horticultural consultant to Garden Design magazine, making sure that plants were correctly identified in photographs.

As part of her volunteer work at the arboretum, she also helped organize scientific records of plants collected on trips to Asia and used in subsequent breeding programs.

She credited her interest in gardening to her mother, Joanna Reed, who spent much of her life creating a celebrated garden around a historic farmhouse in Malvern, Pa., called Longview Farm.

After graduating from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, Mrs. Huxley was a social worker for the city of Philadelphia and came to Washington in 1969.

From 1972 to 1986, she worked for the National Park Service as an environmental educator and a coordinator for the service's bookstores. During that period, her latent interest in gardening grew, and she became active in promoting community gardens in the city.

She remembered being around "plants, gardens and gardeners" as a child, she once wrote, "and their perennial conversations. Apparently my mind stored the information while my interest in things horticultural lay dormant."

From 1976 to 1984, she hosted a half-hour call-in radio show on WAMU called "Gardening for Everyone." Her circle of friends included Judith Huxley, a clematis expert, who shared a cottage garden in Chevy Chase with her husband, Matthew Huxley.

After Judith Huxley's death, Matthew Huxley and Franziska Reed married in 1986 and continued to develop the garden. It became a popular venue for garden parties.

Matthew Huxley, the son of author Aldous Huxley, died last year. They had retired to Morgantown, Pa., in 1999 and developed a two-acre garden there, although they also had an apartment in Washington.

An earlier marriage to Kurt Hecht ended in divorce.

She is survived by two children from her first marriage, Michael Hecht of Westminster, Md., and Elonide Semmes of South Portland; two stepchildren, Trevenen Huxley and Tessa Huxley, both of New York City; two sisters; two brothers; and eight grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company