The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 4 Regent's Park

Royal Botanical Society of London

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In the centre of the ground is the Royal Botanical Society of London, founded in 1839. At one time the Society was greatly in fashion, and the membership was eagerly sought after. No doubt such will be the case again, although for some reason the immense advance in gardening during the last ten years has not met with the response looked for from this Society, and hence a certain decrease instead of increase in popularity - a phase which can but be transitory. The botanical portions of the grounds illustrative of the natural orders were arranged by James de Carle Sowerby, son of the author of the well-known "English Botany," assisted by Dr. Frederick Farre and others, and the ornamental part of the garden, with the lake, by Marnoch. The designs were severely criticised by Loudon in the first instance, who prophesied failure to the garden, but was well satisfied when the modified plans were announced. Some of the earliest flower shows in the modern sense were held there. And this Society was the pioneer in exhibitions of spring flowers. The first was held in 1862, and was quite a novel departure, although summer and autumn floral shows had been instituted for more than thirty years. These exhibitions and fetes became very fashionable, and people flocked to them, and numbers joined the Society, It is always difficult to combine two objects, and this is the problem the Botanical Society now has to face. It is almost impossible to keep up the Botanical side and at the same time make a bid for popular public support by turning the grounds partly into a Tea Garden. Now that gardening is more the fashion than it has ever been, it is sad to see this ancient Society taking a back place instead of leading. It is actual horticulture that now engrosses people, the practical cultivation of new and rare plants, the raising and hybridising of florists' varieties. The time for merely well-kept lawns and artificial water and a few masses of bright flowers, which was all the public asked for in the Sixties, has gone by. A thirst for new flowers, for strange combinations of colours, for revivals of long-forgotten plants and curious shrubs, has now taken possession of the large circle of people who profess to be gardeners. Apart from the question whether the present fashion has taken the best direction for the advancement of botany and horticulture, it is evident no society can prosper unless it directs its attention to suit the popular fancy. No doubt this worthy Society will realise this, and emerge triumphant from its present embarrassments.