IT STARTED IN A POTTING SHED
Records reveal that a society of the same name became one of the first to be affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society on 3rd April 1866 but little more is known of the group.
It was not until 1935 when a group of notable horticulturists met in a potting shed when the idea of forming a society to “promote interest in horticulture, by lectures, shows, demonstrations and visits to places of interest” was discussed. A public meeting was held in October 1935 attended by 83 people and the forerunner of the presentday organisation The Maidstone & District Horticultural Society was formed.
The first President was Sir Garrard Tyrwhite-Drake and other officials included well known names such as Lady Tyrwhite-Drake : Lady Bailey : Sir Alfred Bossom : Sir Gordon Larking and other local businessmen. In addition to playing active parts in running the Society many of them donated trophies for the shows.
Meetings were initially held in the Unitarian Hall and later in the Old Palace. Early meetings were usually lectures or practical demonstrations. These were well attended and in the first year the membership was 207. The annual subscription was the princely sum of 2/6d (12 ½ pence)
The first show in September 1936 was held in the Corn Exchange, followed by General Shows in 1937 and 1938. The first Rose and Sweat Pea Show was held in the Unitarian Hall in 1938.
When War broke out in 1939 it was decided to close the Society for the duration of the War. However the Officers and Committee joined with others to form the “Maidstone Wartime Horticultural Committee” to encourage food production. Much hard work continued in association with official bodies to organise the “Maidstone Dig for Victory” weeks and food production. Funds were put in trust and custody of the trophies was left to the last winners.
It was back to business towards the end of 1945 with the resumption of the many and varied activities. Specialist lectures by leading, nationally known experts began in 1946 and the first Spring Show was held in 1948. The first Gladioli Show was held in 1949. By 1950, outings were proving very popular and membership was growing steadily. That year saw a 100% increase in the annual subscription to 5/- (25p) and 90 members attended the first Annual Supper in the Old Palace at a cost of 7/6d (37 1/2p).
In 1952 the rules were changed and the name Maidstone Horticultural Society was adopted. In the same year the Society claimed to have its own famous person when in 1952 one of the Committee, Mr H. Parsons, resigned in order to take up his new appointment as Head Gardener to H.M. The Queen, at Sandringham.
The highlight of 1963 was made by our quiz team when they won the Kent Federation of Horticultural Societies Challenge Trophy and the Floral Art team won the Pfizer Trophy for the second time having won it previously in 1957. Maidstone always had a very knowledgeable team, much acclaimed by other Societies, and were winners again in 1966 and 1967. Our Society also organised a horticultural quiz in 1967, sponsored by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) at the Corn Exchange in Maidstone at which Percy Thrower, the noted Horticulturist and TV broadcaster, was a guest speaker
In 1966 the Floral Art Group was formed to function independently with its own officers and committee. In the following years the group did great work at flower festivals and were often involved locally at All Saints’ Church, Allington Castle and Leeds Castle. They also exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show and were invited to help at a flower festival at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Also, in the 1960s, the Kent County Agricultural Society, organisers of the Kent County Show, introduced its Challenge Cup trophy for an inter-society competition. In a space of 6 ft by 6 ft each Society had to exhibit and display a selection of horticultural produce which had been grown by their own members. In 1969 our reputation was further enhanced when we were the winners of this most prestigious trophy – a superb display which drew special praise from H.R.H the Duke of Kent. In the same year the Floral Art Group won the Club Trophy. Our successes continued as we subsequently went on to win the KCAS Challenge trophy on many other occasions.
In 1977 our membership was 406, but rising costs, mainly the hire of halls, lead to a doubling of the subscription to £1.
In 1978 we continued to gain awards at the County Show and at the K.F.H.S. Autumn Show we won the Class 2 Cup (6 vegetables). Floral Art won the Inter- Club Class at the N.A.F.A.S. National Competitions in Brighton.
By 1980, membership had dropped to 300. We held our first plant sale, which raised over £100. We won five awards at the County Show. In 1981 BBC’s Gardeners Question time was held in Maidstone.
1982 saw a trip to Floriade and Keukenhoff Gardens, when about 30 members, braved disruptive weather and diversions to reach their destinations.
The rebuilding of the Corn Exchange, in 1983, lead to a change of venue away from the town centre, to Shepway, with the unfortunate result of a further drop in membership.
In the dreadful storm of October 1987 hundreds of trees were destroyed and in 1988 MHS donated a tree and this was planted in Mote Park in 1988
MHS entered the Hanging Basket and Courtyard competition at the Chelsea Flower show on several occasions and were delighted to receive a third prize on one of those years.
Membership fluctuates but currently in 2015 stands at 150 – 10 people have in fact been members for more than 40 years. In the past couple of years there has been a pleasing influx of new members.
Evening meetings are well attended and we are pleased to maintain a high standard of speakers
Shows – The cost of running shows led to a decision in 2018 to restrict them to two. One will be the Spring Show and the other an Autumn Show. In 2019, the location of the shows was moved to St Nicholas Church Hall, Allington. Having previously decided to dispense with entry fees, we have also decided that cash prizes will no longer be offered. Members of the Society do compete for trophies and all class winners receive a certificate. Winners of Children’s classes receive a special prize.
Coach outings are always well supported
The annual Garden party is always one of the most enjoyable highlights of our social year as is the Annual Dinner and Trophy Presentation.
Kent Federation of Horticultural Societies – We have many placements in the Inter-Societies Members’ Choice class at its Show at the Kent County Show and its Autumn Show now held at the Community Centre at Ditton.
Individual members have also had much success over the years at other shows such as:-
The South East Daffodil Shows where some have gone on to become national judges.
The National Vegetable Society
Sweet Pea Society
MHS has continued to maintain its achievements and rejoices in the talents of individual members.
We have so much to be proud of and to know that as in 1935 the aims of the Society still remain “to promote interest in horticulture, by lectures, shows, demonstrations and visits to places of interest”