Raised flowerbeds in Thomas Hill's book of 1586



The area that the Thorney Island calls its own has more than its fair share of cultural gems including Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. But there are others too as we discovered during our visit to the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library in Vincent Square, claimed to be the largest gardening library in the world. It is not commonly known but the library is freely open to the public in keeping with the RHS's founding aim of spreading knowledge. The library is on the right as you go in (after informing the front desk) where you can read but not borrow (unless you are a member) an amazing number of books including current magazines from around the world. 

But the real magic is downstairs where Elizabeth Koper, the Outreach Librarian, took us after telling us the history of the library. She explained how the books of the great John Lindley (1799-1865), a self-taught horticulturalist who became one of the first professors at University College, London, became the source of the library even though much of it had to be sold on his death for financial reasons before being bought back later.

Downstairs, laid before us on tables, were venerable books from the collection including the star of the show -  the first book on gardening in England by Thomas Hill published in 1586 during the reign of Elizabeth 1 two years before the Armada. The Gardeners Labyrinth, (the very small book on the table in picture) which chronicled prevailing gardening practices with illustrations, was popular for over a hundred years going through nine editions. Another gem was the catalogue assembled by the Tradescants, father and son, after their (separate) pioneering voyages to Russia and Virginia.

These were but some of many priceless books we were shown before being ushered into an adjoining room where lovely paintings of plants from the RHS' collection were explained to us including some memorable tulips and orchids. The most curious was a painting of the strain of potato associated with the Irish famine. Apparently, it is now a delicacy in Japan, a fact that would have been of particular interest to John Lindley who wrote a report in 1845 on the potato famine in Ireland. Many thanks, once again, to Pippa Parsons for organising such an enthralling visit and to Elizabeth Koper for being such an interesting guide.