Our founder, Lawrence Hills, was a freelance journalist and keen organic grower. He was passionate about promoting the potential of the herb comfrey as a natural fertiliser and the benefits of organic growing as a whole.
In 1954, Lawrence rented a smallholding in Essex, to experiment with comfrey. He encouraged other growers to share his researches, particularly into ‘companion’ planting for pest control, and in 1958 he created a membership organisation to support the research into comfrey and organic growing. He named it the ‘Henry Doubleday Research Association’ after the 19th Century Quaker smallholder who brought comfrey to Britain.
Our charity grew steadily in the 1960s, but really took off in the mid-1970s when ‘growing your own’ surged in popularity. We also set up our Heritage Seed Library in 1975 to protect hundreds of vegetable varieties endangered by new EU regulations.
We moved to our current site, Ryton Organic Gardens, Coventry, in 1985 and it was officially opened a year later. We were given the chance to present a new organic gardening TV series, called All Muck and Magic, on Channel 4 at the same time, which dramatically boosted our membership. HRH The Prince of Wales became our Patron in 1988 and visited Ryton for the first time the following year.
Our charity – now called Garden Organic – has gone from strength to strength since then. Our Garden Organic for Schools scheme involves 10 per cent of all schools in the UK. Our Master Composter and Master Gardener programmes have trained hundreds of volunteers to inspire their communities. And our major research projects are helping growers to adopt organic methods internationally.
With thanks to our 40,000 supporters, Garden Organic has been able to share the benefits of organic growing with more than 3 million people around the world.