“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies,” wrote the late British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll.
In March 2022 the Palmerston North Horticultural Society celebrates 100 years of sharing the love of horticulture. However, in three separate incarnations, the company dates back over 140 years.
On October 15, 1881, a well-attended meeting of ‘gentlemen’ was held at the Royal Hotel in Palmerston North with Mayor James Linton in the chair.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the formation of a horticultural society. On November 2, 1881, the Palmerston North Horticultural Society was inaugurated with Mayor Linton elected president and George Snelson as vice-president.
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The Summer Salon of December 1881 was not only intended for friendly competition but also to promote industry and encourage the embellishment of the new borough.
Ex-mayor Louisa Snelson won first prize for her tricolor geraniums and begonias. The society only continued for a few years before disappearing – it was probably absorbed by the emerging agricultural and pastoral society.
It would take another 25 years for a reformed Manawatū Horticultural Society to emerge in 1908. A resolution was passed to confine the committee to men but to set up a separate committee of ‘ladies’ to help them ‘show questions” which basically meant providing refreshments during the shows.
However, women continued to be avid exponents.
On February 10, 1909, the Governor General inaugurated the first fall ahow organized by the Manawatū Horticultural Society in the Agricultural Hall of the Exhibition Grounds.
the Manawatu weather report that “the scene effect of the cut flowers is brilliant, a riot of color, and the great hall as a whole presents an attractive appearance and lends itself admirably to the lens.”
One of the novelties of the 1909 Salon d’Automne was the parish garden competition. The objective was to promote emulation between householders and to promote the attractiveness of the town’s gardens.
Unfortunately, the pressures of World War I led to the demise of the Manawatū Horticultural Society after 1914.
The board of the Willard Home for Children organized several fundraising events, including a chrysanthemum display in May 1921. The event was such a success that the house committee also added a bulb display to the spring.
The organizing committee became the Manawatū Willard Home Horticultural Society.. As the demands of the house increased, it was decided that the management board of the Willard house would separate from the horticultural society.
Therefore, in March 1922, a successful application was made to form the Palmerston North Horticultural Society again. It was proposed that the committee be made up of 12 men and, for the first time, eight women.
This time the society did not die out and horticultural shows continued to be a key feature with four shows a year. In September 1930, the Ninth Annual Light Bulb Show boasted of being the first show held in the ”town” of Palmerston North. There were over 500 entries and exhibitors.
One of the society’s goals was to encourage community beautification in private gardens and public spaces. A key voice for this was the borough council’s conservator of reserves, Peter Black, who became vice-chairman of the society from 1924.
In the 1920s Black would exhibit choice flowers grown on the Esplanade and was a regular expert speaker at society meetings. Additionally, he garnered the society’s enthusiastic support for a begonia house to be erected on the Esplanade which was completed in 1942. This became known as the Peter Black Conservatory.
A shared interest in horticultural education, tips and tricks have always been a key function of the company and a feature of every meeting.
For example, a monthly speakers list from 1951 features such topics as: principles of garden design, a daffodil party, and a miniature show with a flower-art demonstration; a pink evening; and a conference on perennials.
In 2012, topics included: commercial floriculture, establishing a good family orchard, growing begonias, Maori potatoes, growing nuts and trends in the nursery industry.
Longtime member of the society and retired teacher, Noeleen Olsen combined her lifelong passions for teaching and horticulture by leaving a bequest in her will for the use of scholarships or grants for horticulture students. from Massey University. The Noeleen Olson Undergraduate Horticulture Scholarship was established following her passing in December 2019.
In 2007-2008 the last shows held by the Palmerston North Horticultural Society were held at the Community Leisure Center in Ferguson St. These had become tedious and the tendency to devote entire weekends to holding the events had diminished.
However, members continue to contribute exhibits to horticultural shows held by other societies.
Instead of performances, the Society displays flowers, fruits, and vegetables on trestle tables at monthly meetings.
As described in the Manawatu Standard on the occasion of the 90th anniversary in 2012: “The display can be anything from a member’s garden – fruits, flowers, vegetables, a potted plant or cut foliage”, explained the vice then. -Club President, Elizabeth Shearer.
“The other members vote for their favourite, with little winks… whoever has won the most at the end of the year wins a prize. And monthly winners are announced overnight.
The society continues to take a keen interest in the city’s horticultural activities. In 2008, the horticultural society joined forces with Manchester Street School in Feilding to teach children about growing vegetables.
To kick off the project, the company donated $500. In 2019 Councilor Rachel Bowen spoke to the Society about the Wildbase Recovery Community Trust and the progress of internal planting at the Esplanade.
Over the years, the main objectives of the Palmerston North Horticultural Society have remained the same: horticultural education, the promotion of the industry, the promotion of the beautification of public and private spaces and, of course, the bringing together of like-minded horticulture enthusiasts.
Leanne Croon Hickman is a historian of Manawatū and a member of the editorial board of the Manawatū Journal of History.