Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ collection

With Guildhall Library’s exhibition showcasing some of the gems of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ Horticultural Library now open, this week our blog looks at the history of this fascinating collection, and some of its key items.


In April 1891 the Worshipful Company of Gardeners passed a resolution to grant funds for the purchase of books to form the nucleus of a library of horticulture at Guildhall Library. Behind this resolution was the public spirited intention of providing a collection of current gardening manuals as a reference resource for City workers. The collection was placed under the Library’s control in 1922 whilst remaining the property of the Gardeners’ Company.

In recent decades, the comparatively low cost of gardening manuals has increased general ownership and the focus of the collection has shifted toward antiquarian and rare books. The gardening manuals were transferred to the lending libraries in the 1960s but the Company’s collection remains at Guildhall Library and can be consulted on production of one form of identification (showing proof of address).

The collection ranges from almanacs to zoophytes; so this is just a sample from around five hundred printed books and journals from the sixteenth-century to the present.

John Evelyn’s Kalendarium Hortense: or, The Gard’ner’s Almanac: Directing What he is to Do Monthly Throughout the Year and What Fruits and Flowers are in Prime  (1691) tells gardeners that in November they should “hardly be too sparing of Water to your hous’d plants…the not observing of this destroys more plants than all the rudenesses of the season.” The volume concludes with “a catalogue of such excellent Fruit Trees as may direct Gentlemen to the Choice of that which is good, and Store sufficient for a moderate plantation: Species and Curiosities being otherwise boundless, and without end.”

Gardeners collectionThe Compleat Florist was first published in 1740 and offered advice to flower growers and pleasure for the general reader. Our 1794 edition offers a series of plates (see left) giving detailed engraved illustrations for each flower, time of flowering and instructions for cultivation. Today it is an informative guide to the plants available to the eighteenth-century gardener.

The library includes several of the works of Gertrude Jekyll including Wood and Garden (1899) and Home and Garden (1900) which describe the creation of her house and garden with architect Edwin Lutyens at Munstead Wood in 1896. These volumes are illustrated with Jekyll’s own photographs.

Another volume to enjoy for its text and illustration is Poet Laureate Alfred Austin’s prose idyll The Garden that I Love (1906 2nd edition) with sixteen reproduced watercolours by artist George S Elgood RI. 

Gardeners postcardA list of the publications in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue here.

The Gardeners’ Company promotes good gardening and supports centres of horticultural excellence. It is probably best known to city workers for its ‘Flowers in the City’ campaign, which aims to “’beautify’ the City, to make the City a place to be proud of, and a joy to work or live in.”

Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library is holding a free exhibition showcasing some of the collections held by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, usually not on view to the public, from 2 May – 26 July 2013.

‘The Temple of Flora’, plants as medicine, the history of botany and London gardeners are all brought vividly to life through manuscripts, monographs, objects, robes and even a silver spade!  


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