Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants

Roy Lancaster

Roy Lancaster’s first interest in flowers was in the wild flower of the countryside around Bolton where he was born in 1937. He began work with the Bolton Parks Department, spent two years in Malaya as a national serviceman, two years at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens as a gardening student and 18 years with the Hillier Nurseries before going on to a successful freelance career which included radio and TV work, journalism, two of the greatest books on plant-hunting, international consultancy work and innumerable awards and honours yet, through this lengthy career it was plants, and particularly plants growing in the wild, which held his heart and fired this enthusiasm. He was and is the ultimate plantsman.

roy-lancaster - from RHS
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society

He comments that he had the “good fortune in having spent my life in the company of plants” and that he was “a plantsman who loves storytelling” – and here is the essence of this book. As he recalls his life from childhood to the present day the overlaying theme is that of plants, his joy in encountering them for the first time, particularly so if this was in the wild, the associations and memories they hold for him of so many treasured friends, many now gone, and, above all, the sheer delight and wonder he saw in each encounter. He writes with enthusiasm, unbounded knowledge, and undiminishing sheer delight.

Dahlias, chrysanthemums, laburnum and privet were the plants of his childhood home but he soon began exploring the local countryside. He began work at 15 in Bolton Parks Department and, with national service, spent two years in Malaya where he recorded, collected and corresponded on his new plant encounters. Two years as an apprentice gardener followed at Cambridge Botanic Gardens before going on to the Hillier Nurseries where, to mark their centenary, he expanded their plant catalogue to the Hillier Manual, first published in 1971, and became curator of the Hillier Arboretum. The arboretum was passed to the County Council and shortly afterwards he left to begin his freelance career, a daring move which proved hugely successful.

There had been a three month expedition to Nepal in 1981  – this, and his further plant hunting expeditions in China (11 in total) are given only mention in this volume as they are covered “A Plantsman in Nepal” and “A Plantsman’s Paradise: Travels in China”, two magnificent volumes which enthused gardeners worldwide.

These publications lead to demands for him to lecture worldwide and he was particularly popular in the United States and each trip provided further opportunity to see plants in their native environment – and it seems that this was nearly as important to him as the basics of earning a living! There are many amusing stories from these lecture tours and recollections of meeting many interesting people.

roy lancaster - from Country Gardener
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of Country Gardener

There were eight years of appearances on the BBC’s Gardener’s World and other programmes followed with Channel 4: “In Search of Wild Asparagus”, “The Great Plant Collections”, “Garden Club” and, of course, many years on “Gardeners’ Question Time”. He has contributed to a long list of magazines and journals, including forty years contributing to the RHS “The Garden”.

It was a long and interesting career and his recollections in this autobiography will delight all gardeners and plant lovers. The book ends with a tour of his own garden, a selection of the plants he grows there and the friends, colleagues and associations they each recall. Finally, another group of students – regulars from Kew and Wisley – come on a visit and it brings him back to where he started himself as an enthusiastic student. His secret and success is that he has held this enthusiasm through his entire life and, while accolades, honours and awards were plentiful, it was the love of plants which fired his soul.

Roy Lancaster

[Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants, Roy Lancaster, Filbert Press in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, 2017, Hardback, 312 pages,£25, ISBN: 978-0-9933892-5-2]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook


Oh, She’s a Colourful Lady

June Blake, and her garden, will feature in the September issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, The Garden. And it will feature prominently with a photograph of the garden on the front cover. The magazine hasn’t arrived in the post yet but June’s son, Dara, has shown it on Facebook – advanced copies for those featured, I imagine.


I am delighted, for several reasons, that the garden is featured. I feel it is wonderful that it is an Irish garden which adorns the front cover of such an important and significant publication as it will bring the beauty of Irish gardens to a much wider audience and I am especially pleased that it is June’s garden which features as, quite simply, I believe she deserves it.



June seems to me to be one of the very few who are continuing that wonderful gardening tradition of planting in the garden for colour impact and colour combination. This is something which is completely beyond me. I may as well be colour blind and leave all plant combination decisions in our own garden to Mary. However, when we visit June’s garden her colour choices and combinations strike me immediately and I don’t think there is a better garden to visit to see this practice, especially towards the end of summer and into autumn, though it is wonderful at all seasons.



RHS members will shortly receive their copy of The Garden and we can delight that one of our own has been recognised for her beautiful garden creation. However, we  have the a fabulous advantage over all other readers – we can go and visit the garden in the flesh!

Read more about June’s garden on her website:

Enjoy a few photographs from earlier this  month!

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook










Royal Horticultural Society: The Garden Anthology – edited by Ursula Buchan.

The Garden Anthology The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 with aims “to collect every information respecting the culture and treatment of all plants and trees” and to disseminate this information to it members. How this information was disseminated has changed but little over the course of the society’s history from “The Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London” (it became the RHS in 1866) to “The Journal” to “The Garden” from 1975 onwards. It has always been an especially good publication with a great emphasis on quality of content and service to members.  Over the years it has strived to serve the interests of its members with reports on the latest scientific discoveries which are of interest to gardeners, comment on the latest plant introductions, on gardens to visit including the society’s own three regional gardens and it provided a forum for comment, opinion and criticism. Such a well regarded publication, and one with such a large distribution, has enticed the greats of the gardening world to contribute to the magazine: E.A.Bowle, Anna Pavord, Hugh Johnson, George Forrest, Matthew Wilson, John Brookes, Stephen Lacey, Tony Kirkham, Graham Rice, Nigel Colborn, Helen Dillon, Nigel Dunnett, Val Bourne, Joy Larkcom and on and on and on, including Ursula Buchan who took on the task of selecting from this enormous volume of material a representative selection of material for this anthology. It is inevitable when such a selection is made that some people will be pleased with some entries and not with others but it is fair to say that the selection will appeal to most people and that everybody will find much of interest in the collection. The entries are organised thematically and presented under the following headings: Seasons & the Weather (no surprise that this would feature in an anthology for gardeners!), Gardens, Wildlife & Wildflowers, The Environment, Plants, People, Garden Design, The Kitchen Garden, Practicalities, Science & Innovation, Pests & Diseases, The International Dimension and Inside the RHS. There is a final section which gives pen picture biographies of the contributors. One dimension of the book which is somewhat different is that the original photographs and illustrations which accompanied the articles have not been used but have been replaced with illustrations by Jenny Bowers and these give a design unity to the book. These are an unobtrusive accompaniment to the text but, as I read the book, I often reflected on the great value a good photograph adds to an article. Certainly, articles on gardens, plants and garden design would be all the more enjoyable if well illustrated. The nature of the book is such that the reader can dip into it for a few minutes and leave it without losing the thread as there is, in fact, no thread other than the grouping of articles under the selected themes. I have found it a pleasant book bringing back authors I haven’t read for a while, reminding me of topics of previous years and presenting a quick scan of interests over years of the RHS journal.

Paddy Tobin

The Garden Anthology,Edited by Ursula Buchan and illustrated by Jenny Bowers, Royal Horticultural Society, Published by Frances Lincoln, London, 2014, Hardback, 220 pages, UK£16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3485-7

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society, membership, events etc visit our website: