The Rhododendron Society was formed by four founder members: Charles Eley, John Guille Millais and JC and PD Williams, who met at Lanarth in Cornwall and declared ‘We are the Rhododendron Society’. In those early days, select members were invited to join, and were expected to write articles for its regular publication The Rhododendron Society Notes. The Society held its first Annual General Meeting at the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1916, and this is the event that is being celebrated in 2016.
In the 100 years since that first meeting, the Group has evolved: it now has 700+ members worldwide and has extended its scope of interest, now being known as The Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group. It is a Partner Group of the Royal Horticultural Society and achieved charitable status in 2015 with its aim to educate the public about these choice garden plants, to help to conserve them for the future and to support professional gardeners and taxonomists by means of travel sponsorship to further knowledge of the three genera.
Remarkably, one hundred years on, three of the descendants of those founding fathers, Rupert Eley, David Millais and Charles Williams are key members of the present day Group. Rupert Eley is the great-grandson of Charles Eley; he owns the specialist plant centre and garden, The Place for Plants and his grandfather’s garden at East Bergholt in Suffolk. David is J G Millais’ great-nephew; he is the present RCMG Chairman and he runs Millais Nurseries at Churt near Farnham. Charles Williams is the great-grandson of J C Williams; he owns Burncoose Nurseries at Redruth and the Caerhays Estate at Gorran, St Austell in Cornwall.