Hillsborough Horticultural Society
Seventieth Anniversary Dinner
The Half Way House Restaurant – 30 May 2018
Chairman: Derek W Alexander
Madam President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am pleased to be here again for this dinner to mark another special anniversary for Hillsborough Horticultural Society (HHS) – this time our Seventieth. I have the privilege to be Chairman of the Society – indeed for the past 13 years! I begin by iterating our President’s thanks and welcome to you all for attending and helping HHS celebrate its first 70 years! As Jacqui has said, the activities of the Society began in 1948 although it was formed in the Autumn of 1947.

During the 1947-48, Clement Attlee was Prime Minister; George VI was King; the National Health Service was formed; and ‘How does your Garden Grow’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio. Six years of war had left Britain with
rationing of food and clothing, and housing was in short supply. This was the background against which our Society was formed. When preparing for this evening, I looked back through some notes I had made from the Society minute books. It is clear that the aims of the Society were meritorious and laudable in its early days. It had prestigious membership, ambitious annual programmes and excellent speakers, a pattern which has continued.

One of our first Presidents was Mr ET Green, who frequently acted as Chairman. It was Mr and Mrs Green who presented the Eglantine Rose Bowl to the Society for both the Spring and Autumn Shows. Government House was also closely involved, with Lady Wakehurst, Lady Erskine and Lady Grey, as successive Patrons of the Society, Head Gardener, John Kirkpatrick, also played a central role in Society matters, with the Committee comprised of the‘great and the good’ from the Hillsborough area. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to our current President, Jacqui Townsley and the Committees, present and past, who have helped to steer the Society through
many challenges. We are usually able to reach a peaceful and democratic consensus on the issues being debated, such as our involvement in Garden Show Ireland in June 2007. We decided to take a stand at the Show, which paid off as it provided a boost to our membership.

Returning to the early minutes, I was impressed how adventurous and innovative our predecessors were and how vibrant the Society was in its early years. In 1972 the Society was described as being ‘at the forefront in
horticultural matters in the Province’. The Society has always had a social conscience and was known to take a stance on particular issues of the day. In 1968, for instance, the Society took a strong stand on the “cutting and
disfiguration of trees in the Hillsborough area”. And in the 1970s, the Society regularly put forward views on brightening up the village of Hillsborough. More recently, we have worked witrh Lisburn Castlereagh City Council in entering the various ‘Bloom’ competitions with some success. The BBC has been involved in their Gardening Programmes, in the early 1960s, the Ulster Garden Problem Panel and Gardeners Question Time often came from
Hillsborough, most recently, on 20 March 2018, when David Maxwell, Cherry Townsend and Brendan Little recorded Gardener’s Corner as part of our 70th celebrations. Ten years ago, the BBC visited our President’s garden, with the late John Cushnie and just a few weeks ago, they visited Dawn McEntee’s garden in Hillsborough.

The Society has always tried to satisfy both the keen and knowledgeable gardener as well as bringing new people to gardening. We have had fluctuations in the level of activity, in one place I read about lack of support for
the Shows; whilst some time later I read about ‘the best Show ever’! Over the past couple of years, we have had some resurgence, with more interest and higher membership than previously. Horticultural and Gardening Societies seem to be having some difficulty in keeping membership up. As the late Walter Smyth, one of our earliest members, reflected ten years ago, we are living in a different world to that of our predecessors who started this Society!

Nowadays we have climate change issues, carbon footprints, rules and regulations about insecticides and herbicides, new plant diseases and import regulations, debate about plastic and environmental issues etc. Over the years Prince Charles has repeatedly emphasised his view that climate change was by far the greatest challenge facing us all. We cannot therefore predict what sort of conditions will be affecting gardening in the future. In 1962, Bobby Stewart spoke on ‘Modern weed-killing practices’. I wonder how his recommendations would have compared with today’s practices!

It seems entirely appropriate in this 70th anniversary year that we have a speaker to address us this evening who is extremely well-known in the horticultural and gardening field in Northern Ireland. Hence our invitation to
Neil Porteous,of National Trust and BBC fame, to be our special guest. It is a particular pleasure that he is with us this evening. So on your behalf, could I thank Neil for joining us at this celebration and invite him to address us,
including a toast to the Society.