Gigi Crompton obituary

Other lives: Botanist and author of the Cambridgeshire Flora Records Since 1538

My friend Gigi Crompton, who has died aged 97, was a botanist and author of the work Cambridgeshire Flora Records Since 1538. Her interest in plants and flowers began in the 1950s, when she studied at the Cambridge University Botany School. Her abilities were soon recognised and she became a research assistant to the distinguished academic Max Walters.

From 1972 until 1986 she was employed on the Eastern England Rare Plant survey and developed the methodology on which all subsequent rare plant surveys have been based. This led to further research into historical records, culminating in the Cambridgeshire Flora catalogue, published online. Her many papers included studies of the Devil’s Dyke, Lakenheath Warren and Wicken Fen, all in East Anglia.

Born Irmingard Richter in Munich, Gigi was the only child of Georg Richter, an American art historian, and his wife, Amalie (nee Zuendt von Kenzingen). Her godfather was the German novelist Thomas Mann, a close friend of her father’s. Before long the family moved to Florence, Italy, then to Britain, and (just as the second world war broke out in 1939) to New York.

While in Britain Gigi had attended Hayes Court school, Kent, and the Westminster School of Art in London. Although her father hoped she would succeed as an artist, she felt that she had no real talent and in New York she trained in art conservation. The moment peace was declared (her father having died) she returned to London to work as a conservator, soon finding her feet in liberal political and artistic circles. In 1948 she travelled with the Berlin airlift to observe life under the blockade, and reported her findings in the September issue of Horizon magazine that year.

The following year she married David “Buzzy” Crompton, a New Yorker, town planner, maker of harpsichords and croquet player. Buzzy’s sister Lady (Catherine) Walston, offered them the tenancy of a cottage on the Walston estate at Thriplow, Cambridgeshire, where the gardener took Gigi on as an unpaid apprentice. By 1956 her growing passion for plants led her to join the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, of which she later became an honorary member.

In 1965 the Cromptons bought a house at Commercial End, Swaffham Bulbeck, in the east of the county. There they planted specimen trees, now fully mature, as well as an orchard, and developed an exceptional kitchen garden and croquet lawn. They lived a contented life that seemed utterly English – although it was only late in life that Gigi became naturalised.

At times autocratic, Gigi impressed many people with her kindness, enthusiastic ability to teach, capacity for scholarship, warmth of friendship, strength of mind and intolerance of stupidity.

Buzzy died in 2007.

Kirsty Findlay

The GuardianTramp

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