Jim Taggart, pictured above, the eccentric former Labour councillor, peace protester and enigmatic creator of one of Scotland’s most fascinating gardens, has died at the age of 84.
Dr Jim Taggart, whose death was announced by Linn Botanic Gardens in Cove on Sunday, June 16, bought the Victorian era Linn Villa on the Rosneath peninsula and its grounds in 1971 and transformed the grounds into one of the most botanically diverse gardens in Scotland, featuring plants from Peru, China, the Himalayas and many more exotic locations around the world.
Jim’s daughter, Janet Skidmore, described her father as “a remarkable man”.
She told the Helensburgh Advertiser: “He had a long ginger-blond beard, latterly blond, of which he was inordinately proud.
“Fashion conscious in his skinny jeans, hoodies and trainers, he skipped about the garden cliffs like a mountain goat.
“Jim was welcoming and generous to a fault, with a dry sense of humour, a twinkle in his eyes and a wry smirk.
“He was always willing to give to the needy, however little he had, and gave houseroom occasionally to homeless people.”
Landscape gardener Charlotte McLean, a member of the Friends of the Linn Botanic Garden group, said: “Jim was one of those characters who don’t come along very often, and your life was richer for having known him.
“He was a one-off – full of stories and anecdotes and with a very healthy attitude to life, and a youthful vitality which particularly appealed to younger people.
“I don’t think people realise quite how special the Linn garden is, or how lucky we are to have something like it right on our doorstep.
“It’s completely unique – cut off from the outside world, and with a real romance to it. It’s like you’re entering a secret garden.”
The family was struck by tragedy when Jim’s son Jamie, also a highly-regarded botanist, went missing in October 2013, aged 41, during a plant-finding visit to a mountainous area of northern Vietnam.
Jamie, a retained firefighter stationed in Cove, had taken on the running of the garden from his father in 1997.
Jamie’s body was found in December 2015, and Vietnamese investigators and Foreign Office officials stated afterwards that it was likely he had slipped and fallen down a very steep slope, close to where his body was discovered.
Jim studied botany in Glasgow and took his PhD at Trinity College in Dublin, before going on to read theology and philosophy at Oxford.
Much later he also studied mathematics through the Open University, and used the skills he learned to influence elements of the garden at the Linn, including an elegant stone bridge and a set of gates whose design was influenced by the Fibonacci sequence, in which the next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it.
While studying at Oxford, he met and later married Jill Wellman, with their wedding ceremony conducted by Jim’s mentor, Dr Robert Runcie, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.
The couple had three children – their elder son Peter, Janet, and Jamie – but separated in 1978.
Jim was also a passionate anti-nuclear campaigner, regularly appearing at rallies and demonstrations outside Faslane, and was an old friend of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In a tribute published on the Scottish CND website, the group’s chairman, Brian Quail, said: “Many years ago, when Trident Ploughshares first started, I stayed in Jim’s house at Cove.
“He took me on a tour of Linn Gardens, which had been a barren wilderness before Jim transformed it into the wonderful place it became.
“Jim’s gardening genius was integral to his dedication to peace. His making of a garden was the re-making of our primary home, our Eden.
“To use that most boring cliché, CND is a broad church. Jim was exceptionally active in Scottish CND, locally and on the executive, for many years.
“His dedication and untiring efforts will be sorely missed by all who yearn for peace and justice.”