The rise and fall of the Garden History Society

After fifty glorious years, the Garden History Society is no more

In the minutes of the RHS Council for 5 October 1965 can be found the following item: “The Secretary reported a proposal to form a Garden History Society and that he had agreed to provide a room, in which the inaugural meeting might be held during the afternoon of November 24.”

The meeting duly took place, and the results were recounted in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, in the leader for its issue of 11 December (p. 551).  “More than fifty people assembled recently in a room placed at their disposal by the Royal Horticultural Society and decided unanimously to inaugurate the Garden History Society. The brainchild of Mr Peter Hunt – who did all the spade work – the Society aims at the preservation and restoration of historic gardens both at home and abroad. It intends to promote the international study of the history of gardening in all its aspects which includes materials, personalities as well as plants and to publish at intervals publications to foster these aims.”

Among the goals specified in the Chronicle leader were the creation of a library (done: held at the University of Bath), and of “an index as to the location of historical gardens and to the whereabouts of documents relating to them” (done: Ray Desmond’s Bibliography of British Gardens). 

The Society did not start its journal, Garden History, until 1972, so no account of its first meeting appeared in its pages until Professor Stearn, formerly the RHS Librarian, reminisced, in an article for its tenth anniversary in vol. 5 part i, that “I had to leave for another meeting before this meeting ended and thus later found myself on the new society’s committee.”

The link with the RHS Library continued strongly in the 1980s, when the Librarian (myself) became the editor of Garden History for half a decade. This summer, the Society announced its amalgamation with the Association of Garden Trusts, so after half a century the name of the Garden History Society will be extinguished. Let us hope that The Gardens Trust proves a worthy successor.

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