A brief history of the Hardy Plant Society
The First Sixty Years
How it all began
Alan Bloom Arthur Hellyer
John Sambrook Will Ingwerson
The four modern founders
In March 1957 Alan Bloom, Arthur Hellyer, Will Ingwersen and John Sambrook called a meeting at the RHS at Vincent Square to discuss the formation of a society to promote knowledge and appreciation of hardy herbaceous perennials. The result of this meeting was the formation of the Hardy Plant Society and Alan Bloom was elected its first chairman. Unfortunately, by 1961 the Society seemed to be failing and an Exrtaordinary General Meeting was called to dissolve it. Miss R B Pole spoke strongly against the motion, which was defeated, and Miss Pole became chairman.
Miss Rose Pole
This first meeting was attended by David Barker, who volunteered to help the Society and became vice-chairman. In the first newsletter Miss Pole wrote that the previous committee had largely been made up of horticultural journalists and nurserymen – all of whom were too busy to give the Society the time that they would wish. The new committee, all apart from Miss Pole, were amateurs. From 1959 Alan Bloom took on the role of Vice-President, becoming President in 1971 until his death in 2005.
In 1963 discussion began about how members could contact one another about plants in which they shared an interest. Consequently in 1965 the Ornamental Grasses group was formed (no longer in existence), followed by the Hardy Geranium group. Since then other Special Interest groups have been set up by enthusiastic members and we now have the following – Correspondents, Galanthus, Half-Hardy, Peony, Pulmonaria, Ranunculaceae, Variegated and lastly, Shade & Woodland which was set up in 2014.
The first local group was Nottingham in 1968 - and now there are 41 local groups throughout the UK. A Groups Co-ordinator was appointed in the mid-nineties with an annual Group Secretaries’ meeting to facilitate the exchange of information between the groups and the trustees.
Summer garden visits, study days, lecture days and autumn and late spring weekends have been hosted by the groups - and Groups have also represented the Society with exhibits at Chelsea as well as shows throughout the country.
The Plant Finder
Following an observation in the newsletter that there were many unusual plants that were difficult to obtain, a number of members of the Nottingham group decided to sponsor a reliable list. In 1975, with assistance from members throughout the country who recommended reliable sources, the Directory of Hardy Plants was published giving a list of plants and where they might be purchased from some 80 mail order nursery catalogues.
Several further editions followed but it was becoming too cumbersome for it to be continued. Chris Philip and Denys Gueroult joined the Society in 1986 when Chris was creating his own database of where to source plants. Chris required assistance in ensuring that plant names were correct and Jack Elliot, then chairman of the HPS, introduced him to Tony Lord. In return for the HPS endorsement of Chris’s publication, which he called The Plant Finder, Chris offered the Society half of the book’s profits. The first publication of The Plant Finder was in 1987. The RHS acquired the copyright in 1994 and it then became the RHS Plant Finder in 1995.
The Society has published many booklets on different genera over the years, most recently the Peony booklet in 2013 and a revised edition of the Hardy Geranium booklet in 2015. The website has become a very important way of sharing information with members as well as promoting the Society to the public. It is very extensive and publishes the newsletter online, the Journal six months following publication and Cornucopia, which is a collection of articles written by members from the local and specialist group newsletters. There are also blogs by members. The Slide Library, which allowed members to borrow slides for use in lectures, has now become the Image Library and hosts over 8,700 digital images which are freely available. To boost the Society’s collection of digital images, in 2012 a Photographic Competition was launched. The Society also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and two videos on taking cuttings are available to view, via YouTube.
The Seed Distribution Scheme was begun in 1970 by Miss Horne, but it really took off when Jane Smallwood took over in 1980. Many groups have been involved in its running since then with the Shropshire group currently hosting this scheme with assistance from Lincolnshire, Kent and Southern Counties. It is now thriving and has been the principal motivation for some members to join the Society. Seeds are collected and donated by members and made available via a seed list of over 1500 varieties each year.
An Advisory Panel was formed in 1963 to answer members’ horticultural questions. Currently the Society has a Horticultural Advisor who answers such questions from either its members or the public. Answers to some of these queries are now published on the website.
Encouraging young horticulturalists
In 2009 the Society was informed that a substantial legacy had been left by a Middlesex member. The Kenneth Black Bursary Scheme was set up to provide small bursaries to students and people working in horticulture. In 2017, the Society introduced a discounted membership rate for students.
In 1980 a conservation sub-committee was formed, the first chairman being Tony Lord. This has now become the Conservation Scheme, which aims to propagate and pass on older, rarer or lesser-known garden plants in danger of being lost. Groups and individual members are encouraged to join the scheme.
Many of the Society’s members volunteer to take on particular roles, but to help organise all the above, in 1992 Pam Adams was appointed as Administrator. The office was moved to Evesham in 2013 and Sally Broome is our current Administrator.
Change of President
Alan Bloom died in 2005 aged 98, and the following year (2006) Roy Lancaster became the Society’s President. Roy was awarded both the Veitch Memorial Medal (1972) and the Victoria Medal of Honour (1988) by the RHS, an OBE in 1999 and promoted to CBE in the 2014 Birthday Honours. In 2017, the RHS awarded him a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.
2017 is the 60th Anniversary of the Hardy Plant Society and over 60 members’ gardens will be open to all. In early 2017 Cathy Rollinson, the Society’s chairman, announced that four leading horticulturalists had accepted an invitation to become Ambassadors for the HPS and to help promote the benefits of belonging to this active and thriving Society. They are Matthew Biggs, Val Bourne, Carol Klein and Matthew Wilson.
Flora Bloom cutting the 60th Anniversary cake at the 2017 AGM in Norfolk