HH THOMAS, PRESIDENT OF KEW GARDENS

My paternal grandfather was called Harry Higgot Thomas. Until  recently, I thought he had been a prolific author of gardening books and the editor of the Daily Telegraph gardening section. A chance search on Google, yielded the following rather groovy tribute on his retirement as President of Kew Gardens. Any man who held that job and wrote books called Making Love to Mother Earth is a top man. Thank goodness, he had the good sense not continue working in a bank…

HARRY HIGGOTT THOMAS

Our President for 1953-54 was born on July 2nd, 1876. His father Owen Thomas was successively Head Gardener to Sir Robert Peel, Drayton Manor, Staffs.; the Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth, Derbyshire; and Queen Victoria, Windsor Castle, and consequently one can well imagine that coming from such good gardening stock Mr. Thomas in his early days must have been imbued with the love of horticulture. In actual fact, upon leaving school he preferred to enter a bank, but fortunately both for Kew and for the gardening profession as a whole, he found the work so uncongenial that he gave this up after a few months and started gardening in the Royal Gardens, Windsor. After several years there he crossed to France and served a further period of training in Baron de Rothschild’s gardens at Ferrieres-en-Brie, near Paris, and at Cannes on the French Riviera. He then applied to come to Kew and was successful in gaining admittance in April, 1897. He did very well both in his practical gardening and also in lectures receiving the highest awards in Economic Botany, and Geographical Botany, whilst he tied for first place in the British Botany Club with a collection of some 658 specimens. Mr. Thomas apparently took an active part in sport as well as work and was captain of the cricket team in addition to supporting other branches of the students’ activities. On leaving Kew our President went to Veitch’s Nursery at Chelsea, and at a later date returned to Windsor as foreman in the Royal Gardens. Throughout these years he had become interested in journalism and had laid the foundation of his future career by becoming a frequent contributor to various gardening papers
and magazines. So successful was he in this respect that in 1900 he was offered the post of sub-editor of ” The Garden” and then started his career as a journalist. ” The Garden ” was then edited by Gertrude Jekyll and E. T. Cook, and between his day-to-day duties the President started writing one or two gardening books which eventually led to his appointment as editor of ” Popular Gardening,” then called ” The Gardener,” in 1907 (a position which he held for over 40 years until the date of his retirement). He was then becoming well known as an author and was asked to become gardening correspondent of the ” Morning Post ” in 1913, and he remained associated with this paper until 1930 when it was merged in the ” Daily Telegraph.” He still continued as gardening correspondent of the “Daily Telegraph ” until he retired in 1953. The President has probably written more gardening books than any other old Kewite, including many well known works such as ” Making Love to Mother Earth,” “The Ideal Garden” and “The Popular Encyclopaedia of Gardening.” In January, 1949, he was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society, and it is very pleasing to record that he followed in the footsteps of his father in this respect in that Mr. Owen Thomas was one of the original members awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour. Blessed with a quiet and kindly disposition and a good sense of humour, all will wish our President continued good health in his retirement so that horticultural circles may still benefit from the vast experience of knowledge he has gained and which he is ever ready to impart to others.

Click on the thumbnails below to see scans of documents from the Kew Guild archive:

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