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RHS Libraries

Library of the Week: 20th March – we are very pleased to be welcoming the RHS Libraries to our guest post this week! Find out more about the Royal Horticultural Society, their branch libraries, rare books, archives and much more. Thank you to Debora Hodgson, (Research Services Librarian), Liz Taylor, (Archivist) and Jessica Hudson, (Rare Books Librarian) for this brilliant piece. 

About the RHS

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. Our charitable purpose is to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture.

RHS Libraries’ collections support research and communicate knowledge to fulfil the RHS vision to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.


RHS Libraries hold the finest collection of horticultural literature in the world and nationally important collections of horticultural archives, art, photography and ephemera.

The collection documents over 500 years of garden history, science, art and literature and contains over 90,000 books, 30,000 artworks, over 200,000 photographs and a nationally unique archive of records and manuscripts.

We operate a reference service for all and offer lending to Members, staff and volunteers of the RHS. We also have a selection of ebooks and audiobooks for our Members to borrow.

The library has three branches:

Lindley Library Upper Reading Room. RHS / Adrian Green. ©RHS

Lindley Library

The Lindley Library holds world-renowned collections of early printed books, the archives of the RHS and botanical art collections. The reference collection specialises in botanical art and garden design.

Wisley Library

Wisley Reference Collection. RHS / Adrian Green. ©RHS

Wisley Library houses books, journals, archives and artworks. It also includes special collections including the Children’s Gardening Literature collection.

The reference collection specialises in the science and practice of horticulture.

Harlow Carr Library. RHS / sirastudio © RHS

Harlow Carr Library

Harlow Carr library offers a welcoming space full of ideas and information and includes the latest gardening publications, children’s books and some older treasures including collections from the Northern Horticultural Society.

Rare Books

Particular highlights of our rare books collection include the original manuscript copy of Humphry Repton’s Red Book of Waresley Park (1792). Repton presented his Red Books to potential clients, illustrated using his innovative flap design system, allowing readers to lift and reveal before and after views of his designs to entice commissions.

Hand-coloured engraved plate after an original by Pierre Jean François Turpin (1775-1840). RHS Lindley Collections.

The Library also holds a unique copy of Leçons de flore by Jean Louis Marie Poiret and illustrated by Pierre Jean François Turpin (1819). Printed on vellum with hand-coloured illustrations, this volume was created for King Louis XVIII of France.

Another special item is the Genus Rosa by Ellen Willmott (1914). The Lindley Library holds Willmott’s personal copy, interleaved with the original paintings and pen and ink sketches of the work’s illustrations by the artists Alfred and Phyllis Parsons.

Women’s role in horticulture and book history is a research strength of the collections, with women authors, artists and former owners of books leaving their mark in the Library.  For example, a lithographic image of a lady delicately composed of flowers was discovered pasted into the front of a volume of James Edward Smith’s English flora (1824-36) inscribed with “La Botaniste”. This led to an investigation into the life of its previous owner, Isabella Anne Allen, and a campaign on the BBC.


Our archival collections capture the history of the RHS and of gardening in the UK. The archive includes important manuscripts created by key figures in the history of British horticulture as well as records donated by ordinary gardeners, meaning the collection spans everything from royal gardens to allotments and window boxes.

Some highlights include:

Ruhleben Collection – RHS-Ruh

The Ruhleben collection is part of the RHS official archive, and tells the story of the Society’s affiliation with a horticultural society formed by a large group of interned British and Commonwealth civilians during the First World War. About 4,000 British and allied men who had been in Germany at the outbreak of the war, were detained and taken to Ruhleben, a civilian internment camp just outside Berlin. The men were not expected to work, and with time on their hands, a whole society and economy developed in the camp, including societies like the Ruhleben Horticultural Society. In 1916 this horticultural society requested affiliation to the RHS, and there followed two years of exchanges between the two societies. The RHS sent seeds, bulbs and horticultural literature, and other individuals and seed companies contributed to this effort. The Ruhleben Horticultural Society in turn sent reports of its activities and tokens of appreciation including photographs and postcards of scenes around the camp. At its height, the Ruhleben Horticultural Society had nearly 1,000 members. It contributed significantly to the brightening–up of the dismal camp environment, and made a healthy profit from selling its produce.

Garden plans of Percy Cane

The archive of 20th-century garden designer Percy Cane comprises 37 original garden plans and drawings.  The designs were carried out for 21 clients during the period 1957-1973, when Cane was in his late 70s to early 90s. Plans range from sketchy outlines to fine, detailed layouts, and two items are impressions of the appearance of a finished project. The plans reflect the ideas and work of the final 16 years in the working life of one of the most sought-after designers of the 20th century, the final chapter of a career that lasted over 50 years.


Our ephemera collection includes advertising, seed packets, garden guidebooks, postcards, horticultural greeting cards and games.

We hold 27,000 nursery catalogues, one of the most significant collections in Europe with the oldest from 1612. They show the changing patterns of commercial plant growing and are vital in tracking the history of plant introductions.


We are digitising selected parts of our collection to share online. As well as artworks, manuscripts and pages from books, we are creating digital versions of film and audio recordings. This includes oral history recordings, chiefly interviews with past RHS staff and students.

Digital exhibitions are available on our website:

Accessing our Services

For access and opening times see:

RHS Libraries are a member of the SCONUL Access Scheme.

Contact us at

  • Debora Hodgson, Research Services Librarian
  • Liz Taylor, Archivist
  • Jessica Hudson, Rare Books Librarian

All images copyright of RHS Libraries reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder.

You can explore the library’s collections on Discover and find further contact details on their Discover information page.

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