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RHS Lindley Library: Letters from the golden age of British gardening

RHS Lindley Library: Letters from the golden age of British gardening

Newly released by the RHS: catalogue of the personal correspondence of William Robinson (1838-1935), horticulturalist, author and publisher of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the most influential figures in British gardening, William Robinson started his career as a garden boy in Ireland, but soon moved to London, where he rapidly established himself as an authority on many aspects of horticulture. He travelled widely and described his trips in articles in the gardening press, promoting plant exchanges between gardens as a way of improving their collections, and in 1871 founded The Garden, an influential weekly publication which he was to edit for nearly 30 years. Robinson was vehemently opposed to the Victorian love of using garishly coloured flowers to produce garden displays, and through his advocacy of a more relaxed way of gardening is credited with having invented the English cottage garden style of planting. The widely acclaimed gardens that he created on his estate at Gravetye Manor in Sussex encapsulated this approach.

Comprising over 220 letters spanning 70 years, William Robinson’s letters reveal a wide network of friends and acquaintances who represent many different aspects of 19th and early 20th century society. His correspondents include:

fellow horticulturists (E.A. Bowles, Gertrude Jekyll, Frank Crisp, Mrs C.W. Earle, Frances Wolseley, Arthur Bulley, Samuel Reynolds Hole, Robert Marnock, Ellen Willmott, Augustine Henry);

botanists (JD Hooker, Reginald Farrer, Frederick Hanbury, Arthur Hill, J.T. Boswell, George Maw, Henry Vilmorin);

scientists (Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, Oliver Lodge);

social reformers (Edwin Chadwick, John Hanham);

figures from the art world (Edward Burne-Jones, Frank Miles, John Ruskin, Carolus-Duran, Alfred Parsons);

writers and poets (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Francis Newman, Henry Avray Tipping, E.V. Lucas, Alfred Austin, Charles Reade);

well-known figures such as Joseph Chamberlain, Viscount Esher, Lord Ronald Gower, Lady Constance Lytton, Heinrich Schliemann, Émile Faguet, William Tegetmeier and Vernon Lushington.

Themes in the letters include gardening, plant hunting, cremation, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and taxation.

The correspondence forms part of the RHS archives in the Lindley Library at the Society’s Headquarters in Vincent Square, London. The catalogue may be searched online via the Archives Hub:

If you would like to see the archive material described in the catalogue, please make an appointment at the Lindley Library in London. RHS archives are open to all.