The E. A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society is a charity set up in 1992 to further interest in the life and work of plantsman Edward Augustus Bowles (1865-1954) and the conservation of his garden at Myddelton House, Enfield. He was an accomplished artist, entomologist and botanist and an entertaining and knowledgeable writer who travelled widely with many eminent plant hunters of the day. First and foremost, his interest was in plants and he left many cultivars as his legacy. Crocuses were one of his many passions and in recognition of this the Society curates and maintains the National Collection of Crocus chrysanthus and C. biflorus cultivars based at Myddelton House, which includes all those bred by Bowles and still known to be in existence.
The Society meets at Myddelton House four times a year with a lecture in spring and autumn, the annual general meeting in April and a fund-raising members' social event during the summer. A topical and informative newsletter is published three times a year. In recent years we have also had organised trips to Wakehurst Place, to the Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library to see a selection of Bowles' paintings which are held there and to RHS Wisley garden to see the Bowles’ corner.
In 1957 a dedicated area in Wisley garden was made in recognition of Bowles’ 44 years of service to the RHS. His favourite plants including crocuses, colchicums, snowdrops, cyclamen as well as unusual or abnormal plants such as the corkscrew hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ were planted. Some of the many plants named in honour of E. A. Bowles like Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ have been added in recent years. Also, in 1957, the Forty Hill Mutual Improvement Horticultural Society founded in 1910 by Bowles and still functioning today, presented a garden seat and in 2005 the Society also added a seat to mark the 50th anniversary of Bowles’ death. The current garden signage was drafted by Society members.
Myddelton House garden is owned by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) and the Society works closely with the Authority to support the garden with members serving on the Garden Advisory Group, whose remit is the management of this historic garden. The group comprises representatives from the Society, Forty Hill Mutual Improvement Horticultural Society, Plant Heritage (formerly NCCPG), the Enfield Society and is chaired by the head gardener.
As a recognised provider of volunteer assistance to LVRPA, Society members give practical help to the permanent garden staff recording a total of 1,950 hours in 2016 and 2,070 in 2017. A wide range of options is available to suit all levels of ability, skill and expertise. This includes routine gardening tasks in the main garden, care of vegetables and fruit in the kitchen garden, maintaining the Society’s National collection of crocuses and the garden’s National Collection of Dykes Medal irises, running the garden’s computerised plant database and stewarding garden events such as the annual snowdrop sale, tulip tea party and Open House London. Many of our regular volunteers have been recognised with 10, 15 and 20 year long-service awards. Each year in consultation with the head gardener and his team, the Society makes a budget allocation for projects in the garden. The aim is to provide money for facilities, infrastructure, plantings or sundries which might not necessarily be possible from LVRPA’s routine funding. Since 1993 we have contributed more than £36,000 through fund-raising events, donations and legacies.
In 2004-5, to mark the 50th anniversary of E. A. Bowles’ death, the Society embarked on a major fundraising drive to establish a biennial student award to commemorate his lifelong interest and contribution to education. The award is administrated by the Royal Horticultural Society free of charge and has included support for studies into the genus Lathyrus, bulbous plants of Turkey and of South Africa, investigations into the relationships between cultivars of Crocus chrysanthus and C. biflorus, studies of Narcissus species in Spain and Portugal, the flora of western Australia and alpine plants in Sweden. Copies of the reports can be seen in our archive.
In January 2009 the Heritage Lottery Fund made a grant of £487,500 to Myddelton House gardens for restoration of the kitchen garden and development of a new visitor centre. The E. A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society was asked to be the supporting partner in the application and was heavily involved in implementation of the project. Key input was provided over many months, in particular to the zone information boards situated around the gardens and those in the new visitor centre which were formally opened in May 2011 by the Duchess of Cornwall. In 2011 the Society established an annual grant fund available to trainee gardeners at Myddelton House gardens from which five awards have been made.
The Society maintains an archive at Myddelton House gardens of letters, papers and artefacts related to E. A. Bowles and the local area. During 2014 a three-month exhibition was staged at Forty Hall, Enfield to mark the centenary of the publication of E. A. Bowles’ My Garden trilogy and the 60th anniversary of his death. It proved to be very popular and attracted more than 13,000 visitors.
In 2016 two Society trustees, in collaboration with RHS experts, completed a four-year project archiving all of E. A. Bowles’ papers and correspondence held by the RHS Lindley Library. The Society funded the protective material and storage boxes required and also paid for the professional restoration of scrapbooks and albums containing valuable historical material which continues to aid the restoration of Myddelton House gardens. In September 2016 a full catalogue was published on the RHS online hub and is well used by researchers and garden historians.
To celebrate the Society’s 25th anniversary (1992-2017) a garden visit by coach to the Beth Chatto garden was arranged for members. A commemorative 2018 calendar titled A Stroll through Bowles’ Garden and a limited-edition pin badge, based on one of E. A. Bowles’ self-portrait silhouettes, were offered for sale. Two exhibitions featuring E. A. Bowles and his garden were staged in the redecorated stable block courtyard gallery at Myddelton House during April-May and September-October. Also, to jointly celebrate the dual anniversaries of 50 years for Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and 25 years for the E. A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society, the Society contributed towards the cost of a new sheltered seat in the rock garden which the Society’s president, Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles OBE, formally opened following the annual general meeting.
The Society website www.eabowlessociety.org.uk, which regularly receives enquiries, requests for information and applications for membership, was launched in 2007 and had remained largely unchanged. With the appointment of a new web administrator in 2017 the opportunity was taken to redesign and update the site and to add new features and links.
STOP PRESS: Jo's October Garden Walk in News and Views
STOP PRESS: Congratulations to all at Myddelton House Gardens which has received the accolade of a Green Flag and Green Heritage Award for 2019. Great News!