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© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Horticultural Society of New York Records
1811-circa 2010 (bulk, 1900-circa 2010)
 MS 3033

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta, Marybeth Kavanagh, & Larry Weimer.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 21, 2017 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

New York City claims several horticultural “firsts.” The first commercial nursery in America opened in what is now Flushing, Queens, in 1737. James Beekman built the country’s first greenhouse on his Manhattan estate overlooking the East River in 1764. And in 1801 Dr. David Hosack opened his Elgin Botanic Garden—the first public botanical garden in the United States—on the site of Rockefeller Center. The first horticultural society in the nation, too, was formed in New York City in 1818. This early organization, the New York Horticultural Society, survived until the late nineteenth century. It should not be confused with the similarly-named Horticultural Society of New York, the subject of this finding aid and the source of the records described herein.

The Horticultural Society of New York (a.k.a. “HSNY” or “the Hort”) was established in 1900 “to collect and diffuse information on all topics relating to the culture and care of plants, fruits, flowers, and vegetables, and by all possible means to stimulate the knowledge and love of horticulture” through monthly meetings, formal lectures, and seasonal flower shows. Among its founders was botanist and taxonomist Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859–1934), first director of the New York Botanical Garden. Early members included banker J. P. Morgan, stained-glass designer Louis C. Tiffany, and others whose wealth afforded the leisurely pursuit of horticulture on estates tended by (largely) English-trained gardeners.

In its early years the HSNY held meetings and shows at the American Institute of the City of New York. In 1906 it launched a quarterly journal to disseminate scientific abstracts and book reviews.

Beginning in 1910, the HSNY participated in and later sponsored the annual International Flower Show (IFS), a grand floral exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the Grand Central Palace, and ultimately, the New York Coliseum, that ran until 1970 (with the exception of two years during World War II).

The Hort also held large spring flower shows at the New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History, and regular seasonal exhibitions in its headquarters. Prizes awarded for professional and amateur flower arrangements at each event inspired friendly competition as members sought to improve their growing and showing skills while learning from the experience of others.

For about a decade starting in the late 1960s the HSNY sponsored the Bryant Park Flower Show, the brainchild of longtime supporter Henrietta Sedgwick Lockwood. And in 1985 it began its signature  New York Flower Show, which exhibited annually through 1996 (with the exception of 1994) on Hudson River piers.

The Society established its first office in 1920 in the Bankers Trust Building at 14 Wall Street, in quarters shared by the Garden Club of America. Membership swelled over the next thirty years, from 300 in 1920 to nearly 4,000 by 1950. To accommodate this increase the HSNY moved in 1948 to rooms in the Essex House at 160 Central Park South, where it stayed and exhibited until 1969. That year it relocated to 128 West 58th Street, a storefront space which provided additional room for staff, conferences, lectures, and shelving for the Hort’s sizable library of botanical titles.

Along with regular lecture series and flower shows, the Hort’s library has been one of its main attractions. Begun in 1924 as a working library for members (today it is open to the public, but only members have borrowing privileges), the collection grew rapidly, particularly through the generosity of collector Kenneth K. Mackenzie, whose 1934 bequest of 6,000 volumes included over 1,300 works by the great Swedish botanist and “father of modern taxonomy” Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778). Although these rare titles were eventually sold, the Hort’s library today retains a respectable 12,000 volumes that draw gardeners, houseplant enthusiasts, artists, writers, designers, and students who use the collection to enhance their work.

Over time the Hort has extended its mission to reflect the interests of the day, as is clear from some of their varied educational and beautification programs past and present, among them

Apple Seed: An environmental and science education program for 3rd- to 6th-grade students.

Food for Life: Transformed abandoned lots into edible gardens.

Green Branches: A late 1990s program to plant gardens around public library branches. (A related  Read & Seed Program offered summer reading and gardening activities at the Green Branches libraries.)

GreenHouse (formerly GreenWorks): Horticultural therapy and vocational training for Rikers Island inmates.

GreenTeam: Transitional employment opportunities for at-risk youth and ex-offenders.

Neighborhood Plaza Program: Beautifies low-income communities across New York City.

NYDIGS: Affordable horticulture-based workshops, activities, and conferences.

Tree Corps and Community Gardening: Urban horticulture programs of the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2006 the Horticultural Society of New York moved to its current location, 148 West 37th Street, from where it continues “to sustain the vital connection between people and plants” through “social service and public programs [designed to] educate and inspire . . . a broad community that values horticulture for the many benefits it brings to our environment, our neighborhoods, and our lives.”

[This note draws partly on an undated history of the Horticultural Society of New York found in Subseries II.D, Archives Files, Historical Timeline Notes, box 63, folders 1-4. For information on the HSNY’s current programs and activities, visit www.thehort.org.]