Ruhleben Horticultural Society

An amazing story of a ‘forgotten’ group of British men who set up a horticultural society in a German internment camp

The Ruhleben Horticultural Society at the Ruhleben internment camp in Germany not only grew flowers, but also used their horticultural skills to feed their fellow prisoners, earned money to fuel its fledgling economy, and organised RHS standard flower shows to boost morale. This was made possible by the support of the RHS in London, which sent huge amounts of seeds, bulbs and advice to its affiliate, deep behind enemy lines.

Ruhleben committeeMore than 5,000 British citizens were interned at Ruhleben, an old racecourse outside Berlin, which was described when it opened as “scandalously inadequate” and “not fit to keep pigs in.”

Fiona Davison, Head of Libraries and Exhibitions at the RHS, said:

The story of the Ruhleben Horticultural Society is completely unique, in that unlike many WW1 histories that tell of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, it is all but unknown.

For over 100 years, the RHS Lindley Library has kept the records of the Ruhleben gardeners and their remarkable story. Letters and photographs show the enormous positive impact that gardening had on their mental health and wellbeing.

Explore the Ruhleben collection

On RHS Digital Collections
Explore the digitised records of the Ruhleben Horticultural Society including photographs, postcards and letters.

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Plants, Prisons & Potential

In 2021, artist Faye Claridge worked with women prisoners at HMP Send to explore the Ruhleben collection and create art about gardening while incarcerated.

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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.