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The Helensburgh and Gareloch Horticultural Society has a history of over 160 years, making it one of the oldest Societies in Scotland. A summary of the Society’s history is provided below. This is an extract from Ann Busby’s more details account of the Society’s history, which is available here to download (.PDF).

THE EARLY YEARS 1850 – 1900

J.Arnod Fleming HGHS President 1951

Two silver medals, dated 1850 and 1851 were presented to the Society to mark the centenary celebrations

Officials and judges on the steps of the Victoria Hall before the August 1933 Helensburgh and Gareloch Horticultural Society Show. 

To mark the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, flowering cherry trees were planted by Helensburgh schools. Image supplied by Stewart Noble. 

Helensburgh was expanding during this period: the 1881 census records the population as 7693 persons, an increase from 4613 recorded in 1861. The development of a Horticultural Association with its emphasis on the practical and scientific aspects of horticulture would meet the needs of the increasing number of garden owners and their gardeners.


The Society’s function was ‘to hold Shows annually in Helensburgh’ while the Association had a more practical role: ‘to promote the acquisition and dissemination of horticultural knowledge and the sciences relating thereto’. Later the two merged in to one. A long prize list shows separate classes for professional and amateur gardeners.  A clear distinction existed between the two, with the professionals outnumbering the amateurs by three to one.

In 1895 a newspaper reported the Annual Supper, within which is the name of Dr. Ewing Hunter, a member and who was to become responsible for the tree planting in the streets of Helensburgh


The First World War must have had an impact on the Society’s activities. Arnold Fleming describes the situation after 1918 when “supported by a band of enthusiasts they bravely resolved to revive the Show after the First World War”.

By 1926 there was now a separate Ladies’ Committee whose function was to organize the Arts and Craft section of the Show and also the baking, jams, chutneys and so on, collectively known as the Industrial Section.

The start of war in 1939 inevitably brought changes. The Show took place in August just before the outbreak of war. In October a small committee was appointed to assist the Town Council in promoting the use of allotments for growing vegetables as part of the war effort. The distinction between amateur and professional gardeners disappeared.


The Centenary Show was held on Thursday 22nd August 1951 and marked the beginning of a very active and more social period. The Bulb Competition, which remains an annual feature, and a Social Committee was set up, which included garden visits.

Two other names that would feature prominently in the future events of the Society appeared in 1958: Mr. Tom McColl, Chairman, and Mr. Archie Leitch a committee member.

Tom McColl

Tom McColl, Father of Jim McColl of Beechgrove.

The yearly pattern of a Spring Bulb Show and late Summer Flower Show, evening meetings with some excellent speakers on a great variety of horticultural topics, outings and tours to visit gardens all over Scotland and further afield, has been maintained. This has now taken the Society past its 160th anniversary.

To find out more: 

Download a summary of our history (.PDF), or visit the Helensburgh Heritage web site

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