History of the RNZIH

Some interesting dates

Here is a brief timeline on the establishment of the RNZIH:

  • 18 July 1923: “The New Zealand Institute of Horticulture” was incorporated.
  • 15 September 1926: At the executive meeting on this day Dr Leonard Cockayne moved that the annual public lecture be known as the “Banks Lecture” in honour of Sir Joseph Banks who was one of the most famous botanists to visit New Zealand.
  • 6 October 1927: “The NZ Institute of Horticulture Act 1927” passed its final reading. The Act made provision for the Institute to grant Certificates and Diplomas in Horticulture.
  • 15 May 1929: the national executive meeting recommended the publication of a quarterly journal to be called “The Journal of the Institute of Horticulture”.
  • 23 March 1939: The Institute was granted a “Royal Charter”, and the national executive adopted the name “The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture”.
And in recent decades:

  • October 2000: Our first website was redesigned and upgraded by Murray Dawson.
  • 17 March 2003: The RNZIH New Zealand Gardens Trust was established.
  • 11 March 2004: The RNZIH Education Trust was established.
  • 2007/2008: The New Zealand Notable Trees Trust was established.
  • April 2022: Work began to update this website to a modern look and responsive design.

History and activities of the RNZIH

The mission of the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture (RNZIH) is “To encourage and improve horticulture in NZ by promoting the understanding, appreciation, conservation and use of plants”. This worthy mission has remained unchanged 100 years later.

The origins of the RNZIH date back to the early 1900s, when the NZ Nurserymen’s Association (now NZ Plant Producers Inc.) recognised the need for a technical trade qualification administered by an independent professional body, similar to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in England. Hence, on 18th July 1923 the NZ Institute of Horticulture began when it became an incorporated society.

This led to “The NZ Institute of Horticulture Act 1927” which passed its final reading on the 6th October 1927. This Act of Parliament made provision for the Institute to grant Certificates and Diplomas in Horticulture. Generations of influential horticulturists went on to attain the National Diploma in Horticulture (NDH) through the RNZIH, until this ceased in 1994 when the Government set up the various Industry Training Organisations.

This was a setback to the Institute, as it lost the ability to conduct national examinations, and many who gained their NDH went on to become life-long members. It was also a loss to the industry, as the qualification remains highly regarded with no equivalent. As we will see, a role in fostering young horticulturists was resurrected through the RNZIH NZ Education Trust.

In 1939 the Institute was granted a “Royal Charter” and adopted its current name “The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture”.

The RNZIH were the first to administer the Loder Cup, New Zealand’s premier conservation award. This Cup was donated by English botanist Gerald W. Loder (later becoming Lord Wakehurst) in 1926. It was originally “Offered to lovers of nature in New Zealand to encourage the protection and cultivation of the incomparable flora of the Dominion” and approved by the Minister of Agriculture, in whose custody the Cup was placed. Responsibility has now passed to the Department of Conservation, with ministerial responsibility now resting with the Minister of Conservation. The RNZIH are able to make nominations and also have a member on the award decision committee.

At their executive meeting in September 1926, Dr Leonard Cockayne (New Zealand’s most famous home-grown botanist) moved that their annual public lecture be known as the “Banks Lecture” in honour of Sir Joseph Banks, the English naturalist who joined Captain James Cook’s first great voyage (1768–1771) on the HMS Endeavour. This free public lecture continues to this day.

Banks Memorial Lectures are published in the New Zealand Garden Journal, RNZIH’s flagship journal, dating back under many names to January 1925. This journal bridges the gap between popular articles and technical research papers and is produced to international standards. Co-editors Murray Dawson (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research) and Andrew Maloy (writer for the former Consumer Home and Garden and Plant Doctor), and designer June Lincoln are the current team who have produced the New Zealand Garden Journal for nearly 20 years.

Articles from the journal are free to read on the comprehensive RNZIH website (www.rnzih.org.nz) which is currently undergoing modernisation. To mark their centenary, in 2023, the RNZIH digitised their entire back catalogue of publications. Thanks to Lottery Environment and Heritage funding, this resource provides free online access to thousands of articles and a rich historical record of horticulture in New Zealand.

It's not surprising that activities of the RNZIH have a deep history and many interconnections. NZ Gardener also has a connection, as for a time early issues of NZ Gardener had a section devoted to the RNZIH for meeting minutes, news, and articles.

From 1958, the RNZIH have been an International Cultivar Registration Authority. This means that plant selections from native plants can be registered to record their date of origin, parentage, cultivar name, and raiser. Lawrie Metcalf was the first registrar (for 55 years!), succeeded by Murray Dawson who is partnering with the Hebe Society, based in the UK, to modernise this scheme. The RNZIH have published checklists of cultivars from native plant groups including harakeke (Phormium selections, including traditional weaving selections), hebes (woody veronicas), Leptospermum (mānuka and Australian relatives), and Metrosideros (especially selections of pōhutukawa).

The NZ Arboricultural Association, established in 1989 and now branded as NZ Arb, originally arose from within the RNZIH. They remain connected through the dedicated work of the late Ron Flook and current Registrar Brad Cadwallader, to record historic and notable trees of New Zealand, now under the NZ Notable Trees Trust (established 2007/8).

Two other Trusts, directly established by the RNZIH, have proven highly successful. The New Zealand Gardens Trust (NZGT) was established by the RNZIH in 2003/4 to “Promote the best in NZ gardens and horticulture”. The NZGT showcases gardens open to visitors and has a network of outstanding garden owners who are also members of the RNZIH. The NZGT celebrated 20 years of success in 2023/4. The establishment of the Trust is thanks largely to the dedication of Jayson Kelly who was serving on the RNZIH executive at the time. Jayson helped secure generous donations from 30 founding gardens who shared his vision.

The RNZIH NZ Education Trust was established in March 2004 to “assist and promote, in any way possible, horticultural training and education at both the regional and national level in New Zealand”. Their main function is to manage the Young Horticulturist Competition, where future leaders from horticulture sectors (such as floristry, amenity horticulture, viticulture) engage in a national competition, usually held each year.

The RNZIH remain involved in a range of projects. A recent project centred on documenting cultivated plants. There are many thousands of exotic plant species present in New Zealand, yet many are missing from “official” databases, which is frustrating to plant propagators, breeders, and importers. Plant species missing from MPIs Plants Biosecurity Index cannot be imported or sold in NZ, even if that species was legally present in the country before the 1998 legislation came into force. The RNZIH project collaborated with many organisations and individuals to help address this problem.

In 2023‒2024, the Lottery Environment and Heritage Committee funded digitisation of our historic journals, bulletins, newsletters, and other publications. The project ‘100 years of horticultural history’ involved scanning and uploading more than 11,500 pages from 200+ publications produced from 1925 to 2005. Work was completed as part of the RNZIH centenary celebrations. This new digital archive provides a major new resource for those researching notable horticulturists, garden history, or who need access to a wealth of early articles, many of which are just as relevant today.