Roy Lancaster's work is a researcher’s paradise

This wonderful archive documents Roy's commitment to sharing his knowledge and nurturing the nation’s passion for plants and gardening

Roy Lancaster at homeThe RHS Lindley Library is proud to announce an on-going collaboration with Roy Lancaster to provide a permanent home for his archive in our heritage collections. I had the privilege of spending a day at Roy’s Hampshire home in spring 2015 and then bringing the first boxes of his papers back to Wisley. Over the course of the day I was treated to a tour of his garden, a lesson in recognising the Elwes's snowdrop and a companionable lunch with Roy and his wife Sue around their kitchen table.

Mara working on the archiveSince that day the Library has been cataloguing the papers, in order to provide access to them at Wisley for research purposes. I have worked closely with my archive volunteer, Mara, to summarise the contents of the folders and to create a description of each one. Mara has removed rusty staples and repackaged the contents of each file into acid-free folders to ensure their long-term preservation. Roy subsequently brought in more material and he met Mara on one of his visits to the Garden Library. Mara will be blogging in the coming months about her work on this archive.

The first stage of the catalogue is now complete and the descriptions are available on-line via the Archives Hub, and as a paper catalogue in the Library’s reading rooms at London, Wisley and Harlow Carr. The catalogue will be added to as more material is received. As we are creating the catalogue before we have the entire archive, the current arrangement is temporary and may appear somewhat arbitrary; when we have received the whole archive, the catalogue will be reordered into a more systematic arrangement. In the meantime researchers will have the opportunity to access this archive – a true researcher’s paradise.

Roy in the gardenRoy’s career in horticulture spans over 60 years, and his archive to date reflects his unflagging enthusiasm for plant hunting (especially in remote, mountainous parts of the world), the identification of new plants and their introduction to British gardens. It documents his commitment to sharing his knowledge and nurturing the nation’s passion for plants and gardening.

The archive includes large quantities of correspondence with eminent botanists and horticulturists around the world, dating from the 1960s right up to the 2010s. The contents of the folders reflect Roy’s plant hunting trips, his writing of books and articles, his television work, as well as botanical tours that he has led to Turkey, China, Nepal, North and South America, Japan, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Here and there are personal papers, a poem inspired by a poignant event, or a letter to his family from the far reaches of Chile. With his permission, these more personal items have been left in among the papers in his archive.

Work is continuing to provide access to the audiovisual material in Roy’s archive, which is currently unavailable due to a tricky combination of fragile media, obsolete formats and copyright issues. This material includes recordings of his interviews with nursery owners (the raw material for his regular articles in The Garden) and digitised copies of television programmes in which he has featured. We hope to be able to make these available over the course of the coming year.

More information

If you would like to view the archive, please make an appointment at Wisley Garden Library, giving us ten days’ notice: [email protected].


RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the Lindley Libraries.

Even if you are not an RHS member, the RHS Lindley Libraries are open to everyone and provide access to modern collections of books and journals on gardening and related topics. Our heritage collections of rare books, photographs, art and archives are accessible by appointment.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.