The Royal Horticultural Society

by frankbeswick

The Royal Horticultural Society is Britain's prime horticultural association and serves to promote horticulture in all its aspects

Since its formation in 1803 as the London Horticultural Society the RHS, as it is known, has gone from strength to strength and has cemented, or shall I say rooted, itself in the nation's psyche as a much loved gardening organization. It runs flower shows and spectacular gardens for the public's benefit and advises the government and the people on all aspects of horticulture. Membership is open to all on payment of an annual fee, and I am a member.

Above you see a picture of Harlow Carr, courtesy of Dulci

The RHS' Gardens

Am I excited? In a way,but happy and joyful are better words.The fifth garden is coming and it is being located  only a few miles from where I live, ideal for a day out. The fifth garden? Well, I had better explain that the RHS has four gardens. These are:Wisley, in Surrey, which is south of London; Hyde Hall, in Essex; Rosemoor in the South West; and Harlow Carr, in the North East of England. But the RHS  was concerned that other areas were neglected, and after several years of searching they lit upon Bridgewater Hall, a derelict estate in Salford, Greater Manchester, and it is now under development. There will be an orchard of native fruit varieties, ornamental and vegetable gardens and garden architecture, with facilities for visitors and educational services. I cannot wait. Well, I suppose then that I am excited. Glad of a great garden near my home and glad that my beloved North West is getting what it deserves. 

Each of the great gardens is in a different part of the country, and you may know that Britain is small and very diverse in landscape and weather. Wisley, headquarters, is in Surrey, the quintessential England of green shires in the South. Hyde Hall is in the drier, yet still green terrain of Essex in the East, whereas Rosemoor is set in the rich, rolling, but moist lands of Devon. Harlow Carr in the North is in the fertile, but cooler lands of Yorkshire. Bridgewater Hall is the derelict estate of the eighteenth century Duke of Bridegwater, who led the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, which runs near my home; and so it has brought the RHS to the rainy North West of England. The new garden will stand in contrast to Hyde Hall, which is in England's driest county. We in  North West England are not the wettest area, but we  can be damp enough.

But five gardens is not enough, for the RHS has many partner gardens spread across the nation. To find them you need to type in RHS+partner gardens and select from a list arranged alphabetically. They are located in most areas of the country. I will choose one that I know and love. Head south from Llandudno down the Conway Valley,in Wales, and soon you come to Bodnant Gardens. A full description of Bodnant is beyond the scope of this article,  though I have written of it before. Set in the gentle Welsh hills of Denbighshire, east of the more rugged Snowdonia, Bodnant combines the manicured lawns and flower of a great house with wildflower meadows and woodland gardens based around a fast-flowing Welsh mountain stream. The garden boasts five national collections, which are the nation's  official homes of a particular kind of cultivated plant, part of its commitment to the preservation of genetic diversity.It also is a home to several champion trees, which are trees belonging to species native to Britain that are deemed the best examples of their kind and are protected with great dedication. Yet the  twenty acres of the Bodnant estate given over to the gardens is only the start, for another  twenty or so of the hilly woodland is under development. I will be visiting when it is ready!  

Hyde Hall

Hyde Hall
Hyde Hall
Ron Porter

Flower Shows

Some of you may have read my articles on the Tatton Show, at which I have thrice been a competitor and come away well satisfied with the event. Tatton, in beautiful Cheshire, is my local RHS flower show,  held in July. For the RHS it is a big event, the preparation for which starts as one show ends with requests for entrants being advertised.

There are other shows, of which the most prestigious is the Chelsea Flower Show in London. This is the show that always has a visit from the Queen, who is keen on horticulture and ever enjoys the occasion. Also popular are the two Malvern Shows, one of them held in Spring and the other in Autumn. They take place in the Three Counties Showground underneath the lovely Malverns, steep hills whose crest marks the border between Worcestershire and Herefordshire. It is said that Malvern spring water, filtered through some of the oldest rocks on the planet, now leached of soluble nutrients by generations of rain, is the purest of waters and so is ideal for cocktails, which is why it is so fashionable. 

All festivals are similar in structure. There are show gardens produced by garden designers that take weeks to construct.There is a competitive element and you can win either gold, silver gilt, silver or bronze,or no medal at all. Every entry is assessed individually and so there can be several golds, though only one best in show. Winning a Chelsea gold is  a career high for designers and other golds are nearly as good. There are individual and plant society displays, the latter of which involves society teams. I have been a very minor team member for National Vegetable Society display for the last two years and have shared therefore in my plant society's gold medals. You also find stalls selling a wide range of tools and consumer goods. The elite magazine Country Life always takes its own marquee where there is a wide range of high quality consumer goods on offer. At the Harrogate Show Maureen and I went each to our favoured stalls:she to the fabrics and scents, I to  the pies and wines, and we met up again carrying our very different purchases. I must admit that I haunt the stalls that sell pies and speciality cheeses.   There are high quality goods always on sale and anyone with a shopping bent will be well pleased.  

I am hoping to go to the second Chatsworth Flower show next year in June, I could not make it last year through work pressures. This is set in the  hills of the Peak District in Derbyshire at the Duke of of Devonshire's lovely and very well managed estate. Do not confuse this event with the Chatsworth Show, which is a country show held in August. 

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House, in whose grounds the flower show is held
Chatsworth House, in whose grounds the flower show is held

The Work of the RHS

The RHS works to promote gardening, ever since its inception working on plants that are beautiful and useful to humanity. One of its ways of doing this is its magazine, The Garden, which is sent to members several times a year. There is a magazine for experts, The Planstman, and some specialist magazines, such as one on orchids.There is a  good range of books, of which I have several weighty tomes on my shelves. 

One of the benefits of membership is  free entrance to various gardens or discounted rates for shows. I have been getting into the Tatton Show free for the last two years as a competitor, but there have been times when I entered on members day, the first show day when only members can come in. Some people get to be fellows of the society, but that is by nomination and election 

The society works for eduation  with a range of qualifications in Horticulture, which are administered from base in Wisley. There is  a basic level course, a level two certificate and several level three certificates and diplomas, culminating in the prestigious Master of Horticulture, [level six] which is open only to those working full time in the horticultural trade. It also has its own publications department which produces books on gardening.

The work of the society at the moment concentrates on several important issues. Currently it works to represent gardening to the government and the world at large. This is at a time when the pressures on land are high and some governments are not as concerned about domestic food security as they might be. The society tries to make the case for gardens and for domestic food production in gardens and allotments, and at the same time has to make the case for the preservation of beautiful gardens both as an amenity for the nation and a tourist attraction, working to make horticulture a worthwhile career for young people. 

The RHS has been in operation for over two hundred years and its work, which was important when it was  founded, still remains important now. It deserves our respect and support 


Dahlias at Wisley
Dahlias at Wisley
Updated: 10/08/2017, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 04/20/2023

They publish gardening books and hold flower shows, such as Chelsea. .RHS gardens charge entry fees. They might do commercial work for businesses and consultancy work for governments.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/19/2023

Your introductory paragraph considers the Royal Horticultural Society as a "gardening organization. It runs flower shows and spectacular gardens for the public's benefit and advises the government and the people on all aspects of horticulture. Membership is open to all on payment of an annual fee, and I am a member."

What do they do financially to ensure the smooth operation of their activities and interests? It's more than membership fees, correct?

frankbeswick on 10/09/2017

Ireland has a National Botanic Garden at Glasnevin in Dublin; and the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland has its own garden in Russborough, County Wicklow.

frankbeswick on 10/09/2017

Not only was Bridgewater a suitable size, but access is very easy, as the area is well served with roads, including motorways. This was a major factor in deciding to site it there.

frankbeswick on 10/08/2017

Chelsea is the Queen's personal preference, but you are right, she does not routinely attend shows.

Yes, the five gardens are in England, but Scotland has its own Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society,with its own gardens, for as you might know, the Scots like to have their own institutions, for they are legally a country distinct from England, as is Northern Ireland. There is currently no RHS garden in Wales, but Wales has its own National Botanic Garden in Carmarthenshire. There is a Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland,which acquired its royal status prior to independence and retained it afterwards.The various societies work together in a friendly and co-operative way

It is worth noting that there are several highly rated RHS partner gardens in Wales, such as Bodnant, which I mentioned, Aberglasney and Powis Castle.

The other problem in getting a wide spread of gardens is that what was needed was an estate that was not already a garden or a productive estate,ideally one gone derelict that could present the RHS with a blank canvas for development. Such estates are few and far between, and moreover, they would have to meet size criteria and be large enough for what the RHS wanted to do. It took years for them to locate and decide on Bridgewater.

It would be worth following a garden through the four seasons, but if I were to do the article would take a year.

blackspanielgallery on 10/08/2017

The thing most important here is that different locations favor different garden types, so it is important that one take the opportunity to visit gardens even though one might be familiar with a garden on a different location. And, a visits in different seasons can be rewarding.
I recently viewed a movie that focused on the Chelsea show. What I now understand is the queen does not attend shows throughout the country, with the same regularity as the chelsea show.
One curiosity is that the now five locations are all in england, none in scotland, Wales, or the part of Ireland under British control. Is this purely an English society, or a U. K. society?

frankbeswick on 10/08/2017

It sure will be lovely. It is going to be a mighty project. Clearing and preparing the ground is going to take much effort. Sadly,some of the old greenhouses on the site are too derelict to be saved, but replicas are being put in place.

dustytoes on 10/08/2017

How lovely for you that there will be a new garden to visit close by!

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