Frensham & Dockenfield Horticultural Society recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, at the historical medieval house Quinnettes, Churt.

After enjoying a celebratory drink in the beautiful gardens, the 50 members and guests enjoyed a wonderful summer lunch before being entertained by horticultural royalty.

RHS judge Jim Buttress spoke about his life and career in horticulture, from training at RHS Wisley, to rubbing shoulders with royalty while managing numerous London parks and gardens including Hyde Park, St James’ Park, Clarence House, Buckingham Palace and Greenwich Park. 

He also known as a regular panellist on BBC Surrey’s DIG IT.

With some invaluable research help from the Herald Digital Archive Project, the society has published a very detailed 150-page book covering the first 75 years of the society’s history, a copy of which is being made available to each member of the society, 

The books states the first recorded gardening event was held in 1885, ‘The Churt and Frensham Cottage Garden Society’. 

Initially starting as a vegetable and flower show, it quickly incorporated home industries and as time went by, sports were included such as an egg-and-spoon race, pole jumping and a costume race.

In 1908 a ‘marathon’ race of eight miles was added.  

These shows were held in alternative years at Churt and Frensham. Pierrepont, the home of Richard Combe, was the Frensham venue, whereas the Churt venue was either the vicarage meadow or Beefolds, home of the well-known 19th-century artist Bryan Hook. The shows continued until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. 

After the Second World War, a committee of 40 individuals in Frensham set up the Frensham Flower Show, which was held in 1946 and 1947.

At the beginning of 1948, the Flower Show committee retired, and several keen gardeners got together to form the Frensham Horticultural and Produce Society at the Marindin Hall, Frensham, on Monday, February 2, 1948. To this day the society is affectionately known by its members as ‘The Hort and Prod’.

The society held its first show on July 24, 1948, and at that time the society awarded only two cups; the Atherton Cup, which had been given to the Frensham Flower Show in 1946, and the Earle Cup, which was awarded for the first time.  

The society is very fortunate that so many other cups have since been donated by members who got so much out of being members.

The society thrived throughout the 1950s and by 1955 had a membership of 248. The society held three shows annually; a spring, autumn and summer show, and these were all very well supported.

The summer show was the village event of the year because it not only included flower, vegetables and home industries but also traditional fayre stalls such as a coconut shy, hit the rat, roll-a-penny and prize golf, along with regular entertainment from the Royal Navy, armed forces and police dogs. It went back to its more traditional role as a flower show in the early 1970s.

The society for many years competed in the inter-village competitions, winning the Close-Brooks Cup competition for a collection of vegetables and also dominating the Snow Cup during the 1980s, thanks to member Pat Mattin. This was another inter-village competition hosted annually by Headley Gardening Club, focusing on flower arranging.

In 1977, the society introduced the very successful President’s Supper. Apart from the Covid pandemic it has run every year since, but is now known as the Members’ Supper.  

The society has always had a good number of members from the neighbouring village of Dockenfield and to recognise this, the society’s members voted to change its name to Frensham & Dockenfield Horticultural Society in 2005.

The society holds two shows a year which continue to be very popular with members. The autumn show of 2021 attracted 329 entries from 47 entrants, the best for more than 40 years.

While it is sad to see so many gardening clubs fold because of lack of interest, the society continues to thrive and currently has about 100 members, not just from Frensham and Dockenfield but also from surrounding villages.

The society holds regular monthly meetings with guest speakers, regular garden visits, workshops as well as the spring and the autumn shows. 

This year’s autumn show will be held on Saturday, September 9 at the Marindin Hall, Frensham, from 2.30pm to 4pm.

Anyone interested in gardening would be welcome to join us  and more details, can be obtained from the society website, or the membership secretary Jilly Steventon on [email protected]

By Neil Mumford