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Dahl’s life had been eventful. Born at Llandaff near Cardiff in 1916, to Norwegian parents, Roald was named after the famous explorer and Norwegian hero Roald Amundsen. The family spoke Norwegian at home and attended the Norwegian Church in Cardiff. He was educated at Landaff Cathedral prep school, and boarding school in Weston-super-Mare before going on to Repton, spending some of the school holidays with his mother’s family in Norway. The main child character, a boy, in The Witches published in 1983, is a Norwegian boy with a grandmother living in Norway.

Roald, tall and athletic, excelled at sport, but did not enjoy parts of his schooldays, and wrote about in his autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood. When he left school he worked selling kerosene around Midsomer Norton and the villages surrounding it, but his career in business took off when he joined Shell and worked in Africa.

When World War II broke out, he went into the RAF. He became a fighter pilot and his wartime exploits are not exaggerated – he was a flying ace, with five aerial victories to his credit, although it is thought he shot down many more German aircraft. He undertook propaganda and intelligence work and at the end of the war left the RAF as a squadron leader.

In 1940 when assigned to flying an obsolete Gladiator biplane, he crashed on a mission in north Africa and was lucky to escape from the burning aircraft in the desert, in what it turned out was no-man’s land between the Allies and the enemy; his account of the crash was his first published piece of writing. He lost his sight for a while but returned to duty and flew in the Battle of Athens in 1941 with top RAF fighter pilots.

After the war he married Pat Neal, raised his family and became a full time author. He wrote screenplays for two of the Bond films. But the family was hit by not only his wife’s major illness, but the traffic accident in New York that left his son Theo brain damaged, and the loss of his seven-year-old daughter, Olivia who died of measles encephalitis (among the other children

who survived is author Tessa Dahl).

There’s much for gardeners to see in the garden at Gipsy House (or it would not be in the Yellow Book), with the pleached lime walk, the hostas and alliums, the topiary oaks, the espaliered fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, and the yew garden with its roses and perennials. The front garden has herbaceous borders, a potager, a small sunken garden with a water feature and paved terrace; a York stone path leads to the front door and yew balls (which are new).

Roald Dahl died from leukaemia on 23rd November 1990 and is buried at the village church of St Peter and St Paul at Great Missenden. Apart from the garden and the museum to visit, there is the Roald Dahl Foundation which supports causes connected to neurology, haemotology and literacy, and the children’s charity, www.roalddahlcharity. org which exists to make the lives of seriously ill children better. The charity work and the long list of books are surely the epitaph for this writer who has been hailed as ‘the 20th century’s greatest children’s writer’. One of his worthy successors, J.K Rowling, has said that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is among the top ten children’s books every child should read. But his spirit is surely in his own garden at Gipsy House and where he wrote the books so loved by children all over the world.

Gipsy House garden openings this year

Gipsy House, Whitefield Lane, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire HP16 0BP. Open for the NGS on Wednesday 1st and Thursday 23rd May, Wednesday 19th June and Thursday 18th July, 2pm -5pm. Admission: £4, children free. Home made teas and Gipsy preserves on sale. Also opening with The Plant Specialist. Disability information: Very limited wheelchair access. There are steps in all parts of the garden. How to get there: Gipsy House is five miles north west of Amersham. Take the A413 to Great Missenden, then into Whitefield Lane, opposite Missenden Abbey entrance, under the railway bridge. Find the Georgian house on the right, and park in the field opposite. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is in the village. For more information phone 01494 892192 or visit the website at

Country Gardener 9

The greenhouse contains the giant peaches made famous in 'James and The Giant Peach'

There’s much for gardeners to see in the garden at Gipsy House

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