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Thursday, 23 January 2014

200 years of a the Royal Horticultural Society

Image: freedigitalphotos


The Horticultural Society of London was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood. Their intention was to create a forum for the collection and sharing of horticultural knowledge and experience. The Society's first flower shows, known as 'floral fetes', were held in the 1820s, in the garden of the Duke of Devonshire in Chiswick, London.

Financial problems

The Society was initially successful, attracting new members, and visitors to its events. However, by the 1850s it had begun to get into financial difficulties, with falling membership and low ticket sales. By then the Society had acquired a large library including rare books and drawings, but this had to be sold to pay off debts.

Help from Prince Albert

The Prince Consort's interest in science extended to horticulture, and in 1861 he awarded the Society a royal charter and a new name, the Royal Horticultural Society. Membership once again began to rise, and the Society bought a new garden in Kensington. It also replaced its lost library by buying the entire collection of John Lindley in 1866.

Gifts and acquisitions

The Society's garden and experimental centre at Wisley, Surrey, was acquired in 1903. In 1984, Lady Anne Palmer donated her garden at Rosemoor in Devon, and Hyde Hall, Essex, was given by Mr. and Mrs. Dick Robinson in 1993. The Society's amalgamation with the Northern Horticultural Society in 2001 added the Harlow Carr garden near Harrogate.

Flower Shows

Annual shows have featured in the Society's calendar since the days of the floral fetes. Acquired in 1904 and 1928, the Royal Horticultural Halls in Vincent Square, Westminster have been their principal indoor venue. The Society holds over fifteen annual outdoor shows in various parts of the country, of which the Hampton Court Show is the biggest; it receives more visitors than any other flower show in the world.

The Chelsea Flower Show

The first RHS show in the gardens of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea was held in 1913. It is not the Society's largest show, but it is easily the most well-known, setting trends in garden design which have word-wide influence.

Scientific research

Throughout its history, the RHS has conducted and sponsored research which has greatly influenced horticultural knowledge and practice. In the nineteenth century, the use and effects of fertilisers were studied, and later, leading work work was done on plant genetics. Currently, the RHS is pioneering the idea of sustainable gardening, which involves studying the effects of horticulture on the environment, and minimising the damage it causes, for example by promoting the use of peat-free compost.

The present day

An award from the Society for a new plant breed or a garden design remains the height of ambition for commercial gardeners. As the world's leading horticultural organisation, the Royal Horticultural Society continues to promote good gardening practice, to share knowledge, and to give pleasure to millions of people with its shows, publications, and gardens.

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