Antique/Collecting: Flowering of a Budding Idea for Developing Gardening Excellence; with the Sun Shining and Temperatures Soaring This Week Harry Hawkes Takes Time off from the Garden to Look at Some of the New Postage Stamps Featuring Armchair Gardening

Article excerpt

Two hundred years ago seven keen gardeners from various parts of Britain arranged to gather at their favourite meeting place in London. The spot was Hatchard's Bookshop and the year was 1804. Three of them were professionals and the other four were amateurs but they all shared a passion for every type of flower, shrub and tree, not only in Britain but elsewhere in the world. For this was the age of discovery. Intrepid travellers and explorers were returning from abroad with news of wonderful plant discoveries. Their notebooks were crammed and they had lots of carefully packaged samples to be nurtured and raised in Britain.

To these seven 'greenfingers' we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude today. Two centuries of careful cross-breeding and loads of TLC have produced some glorious colour variations in flowers and foliage for new strains which might never have occurred naturally.

Next week Britain will be paying tribute to those original 'Magnificent Seven' plant and tree lovers whose enthusiasm and energy spread from Hatchard's Bookshop to all corners of the earth through the gardening club which they had founded. They named it The Horticultural Society of London.

With the stated aims of 'collecting every kind of information respecting the culture and treatment of all plants and trees' it was in 1809 only five years after its foundation, that the society received its first Royal Charter and by 1820 was sending out its own botanists to many parts of the world to collect plant and tree specimens for cataloguing and cultivation.

In 1821 the society leased 21 acres of the Duke of Devonshire's estate at Chiswick as its new experimental garden and in 1851 a new Royal Charter was granted for it to become The Royal Horticultural Society.

In 1903 the RHS was presented with further land at Wisley, near Weybridge in Surrey, a site which was later to become the experimental gardens that it has today.

Now, those gardens are famous right round the world and include the society's fantastic rock gardens and collections of alpine plants.

Responsible for developing a number of cultivars giving a variety of flowers and foliage, the society's most successful achievements can be seen in the range of clematis, delphiniums, lilies, dahlias, Miltonias and pinks.

The stamps commemorating the bicentenary will be issued on Tuesday. In addition to stamp sheets of individual values, Royal Mail will be selling miniature sheets containing all six stamps printed together.

The flowers shown on the stamps are: 2nd class, dianthus Allwood group; 1st class, dahlia 'Garden Princess'; E (Europe rate), clematis Arabella. The 42p stamp shows Miltonia 'French Lake'; the 47p value shows the lily 'Lemon Pixie' and the 68p top value the delphinium 'Clifford Sky.'

Bonhams' important Midland sale rooms at The Old House, Station Road, Knowle, Solihull, is staging an interesting ceramics and decorative arts sale next Wednesday. …