Britain's gardening charity, the Royal Horticultural Society, has a long and interesting history dating from 1804. Founded under the title The Horticultural Society of London, by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood, its aim was to collect plant information and encourage the improvement of horticultural practice.
The prototype of the Society's popular flower shows today began in the late 1820s, with a series of floral fetes held at the Duke of Devonshire's estate in Chiswick.
The 1850s saw a period of financial crisis for the Society, due to the lack of income from membership and falling proceeds from its garden. This unfortunately led to the sale of its library which contained many rare books and original drawings.
Prince Albert, its then President, revived its fortunes by arranging a new charter in 1861, resulting in the name, The Royal Horticultural Society. A new garden in Kensington was also secured, which remained its headquarters until 1888. Royal support helped increase membership and soon the Society became a viable entity again.
The Society was able to rebuild its library by purchasing the collection of John Lindley in 1866. The Lindley Library is now the world's foremost horticultural collection, containing over 50,000 books, 1,500 periodicals and 18,000 botanical drawings. It is open to the public as a reference library, although only RHS Members can borrow books.
In 1903, Sir Thomas Hanbury purchased the garden of a former Society council member, George Fergusson Wilson, at Wisley, Surrey, and presented it to the Society as a new experimental garden. Wisley remained the Society's only garden for 80 years. However, in 1987 it received its second garden, Rosemoor in Devon, a gift from Lady Anne Palmer. This was followed in 1993 by Hyde Hall, in Essex, the gift of Mr and Mrs Dick Robinson. In 2001 the RHS amalgamated with the Northern Horticultural Society and now runs Harlow Carr just outside Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
The Society's centenary year, 1904, saw the opening of its offices and exhibition hall at Vincent Square. A further exhibition hall, the New Hall was opened in 1928 on an adjacent site, and these halls serve as the venue for most of the Society's London Flower Shows.
After the move from Kensington in 1888, the great spring show was staged at the Temple Garden; in 1913, this show moved to the grounds of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, where it remains today and is famously known as the Chelsea Flower Show.
The Society's attempts to improve the scientific aspects of gardening have progressed from its research into fertilisers in the 1840s, to its promotion of research into genetics at the turn of the century. Its concern for the naming of cultivated plants led to the first publication of a classified list of daffodil names in 1908; today the Society is the International Registration Authority for more categories of plants than any other organisation throughout the world.
The Royal Horticultural Society continues to encourage the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches. It is now the world's leading horticultural organisation, with extremely active science and educational departments.