Library splits top gardeners

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The Independent Online
A coalition of stately home owners and eminent gardeners yesterday forced the council of the Royal Horticultural Society to reconsider a plan to move the society's library out of central London.

Protesters arriving at the annual meeting signed a petition calling for a special meeting, which means the move will have to be voted on by all society members. Cries of "shame" and boos greeted the society's chairman, Sir Simon Hornby, when he told 600 or so members: "There is no possibility of voting on this topic today."

After the intervention of the Marchioness of Salisbury, a vice-president of the society and owner of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, which has one of the greatest gardens in the country, Sir Simon agreed the topic might be discussed.

Support came from Baroness Elles, a member of the House of Lords, who pointed out that if the move was not discussed at the AGM, the society could be challenged on its decision in the courts. A last-minute concession by the council to install a reading room in London did not appease the protesters.

The Lindley Library, now on the top floor of the society's headquarters in Vincent Square, Victoria, said to be one of the finest horticultural libraries in the world, is, both sides agree, impossibly cramped.

Sir Simon told members that while only 1,800 members use the library in London a year, there are 600,000 visitors to Wisley Gardens, site of the proposed library. But the protesters, headed by the journalist, Anna Pavord, argued that the move to Wisley Gardens, just off the M25 in Surrey, will make it too difficult for those who cannot drive or who live up north. She was supported by Lady Bruce Gardyne, from Lincolnshire, who told the AGM: "Some of us cannot get to Wisley. I would like to remind the chairman that we are the Royal Horticultural Society, not the Surrey Horticultural Society."

Fury will now bloom in the gardening press as the society's members are canvassed by both sides before the special meeting, which will be held later this summer. As Sir Simon admitted yesterday: "We do not know, any of us, what the view of the members will be."