Derry Horticultural Society celebrates diamond jubilee

The city's proud tradition of gardening and celebrating wildlife has been honoured with the planting of an oak tree in St Columb's Park.

The event was organised as part of the year-long celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the City of Derry & District Horticultural Society.

Another oak tree is to be planted in Brooke Park in the coming weeks, and a calendar showing members’ gardens has been produced.

Last month, the group hosted a visit by the popular BBC Radio Ulster’ programme “Gardeners Corner ,“ and next month, the society will present its Annual Spring Show. Each year, it awards eighteen cups for exhibits at the show, ranging from daffodils to art and craft exhibits.

In June, the society is having a celebration dinner in a local hotel and the guest speaker will be Ms Wendy Austin, a BBC journalist, who is also the granddaughter of the organisation’s very first chairman in 1934, Capt. Glover Austin.

How it all began

In 1934, a group of mostly professional local men got together to form a society to promote gardening in the city, and so began the City of Derry & District Horticultural Society. The aim of the society was to encourage civic awareness in gardening and the production of fine flowers and vegetables, both in gardens and also in the many allotments in the city.

These same gardening concepts are still promoted today with the addition of ‘awareness of ecological and environmental issues’ a change added to the society’s constitution in 2008. Very little is known of the group’s activities over the next 12 years as the documents pertaining to this period are no longer available but the society do have minutes of meetings from 1956 to the present day.

Back then not many city dwellers had a garden as most people lived in small terraced houses and most city gardening was done in the allotments. These allotments provided vegetables, fruit and cut flowers. To encourage the continuance of this practice and generate an appreciation of the benefits of growing shrubs and flowering plants, the society decided to hold an autumn show and by including a fancy dress parade families were encouraged to attend.

The people who sat around the table and started the society were leading industrialists, wholesalers, heads of large department stores and council officials. It would be easy to write them off as ‘just doing their duty’, but in fact these people were active members of the society and remained until their death or ill health meant they could no longer continue.

Hardy annuals

From the beginning, the society held one show per year, usually during the first week in September and it took place in the Guildhall and continued there until the building was damaged in 1971. Originally the show was a two-day event held on a Wednesday and Thursday but became a twice yearly one day event during spring and autumn.

From 1968,a spring show only has taken place and since 1975 it has been held in St Peter’s Church Hall, Culmore Road and continues there to the present day.

The society has, from the beginning, appointed a committee of ten members to run its affairs..

Its first chairman was Capt. Glover Austin and its present chairman is Mrs. Gillian Baird.

The society has only ever had three Presidents. Its first President was Sir Dudley McCorkell 1934 – 1960. He was succeeded by his nephew, Col. Sir Michael McCorkell 1961 – 2006 and the current President is Mr. Sydney Harrod.

The society in its present form encourages interest in all aspects of gardening and has a programme of five talks given at its monthly meetings by experts on subjects chosen by the committee. These start in September and carry through to March. The Annual General Meeting is held In January and is usually follow by a wine and cheese evening.

The society arranges a number of visits to local gardens each year. Overnight visits have also been made to Dublin, the West of Ireland and Scotland.

If you wish to find out anymore information about the Society, contact Mrs. Joan Winters, tel 02871 810890.