Garden of Tranquility, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh © RBGE

History of the Trust

It is not clear how, when and why Stanley Smith became interested in plants and horticulture. Exotic plants flourished in the subtropical climate in Brisbane and this may have contributed to a love of gardening in later life. Trips to Brisbane Botanic Garden to view their orchids may also have been a stimulus or maybe it was the time he spent in the Australian Outback. Whatever it was, towards the end of his business years he became passionate about horticulture, especially Australian native plants, orchids and tropical plants in general. In his garden at Nassau he cultivated over a million plants and attended courses in botany. Collecting and growing orchids became an obsession and he was widely acknowledged as an expert in their cultivation.

In 1965 he was invited to judge an orchid Show in London and it was here that he met Sir George Taylor, then the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the two became lifelong friends. 

They corresponded frequently, usually about orchids or Australian plants and their cultivation but at this time he was also considering setting up some sort of trust to support horticulture and he sought Sir George’s advice on how this might be done. In a letter to Sir George sent in November 1965 Stanley wrote: As a matter of fact since seeing you I have decided to set aside a largish sum of money as a foundation for the benefit of horticultural research and all that the field covers rather than for specific projects. I have not yet decided where I shall set this trust up. Nor do I even know what yardstick I shall use to decide where it should be located. … I had in mind kicking off with half a million pounds and building the fund to a million from my own resources but if we can get others to kick in fine!’ 

Indeed all sorts of ideas and notions have been going round in my head since I read your letter

Sir George Taylor after Stanley Smith's first proposal to set up a trust

Sir George replied writing: Your proposal to start up some sort of trust to encourage horticultural research and activities on an international basis, and to allocate as a start half a million ponds for this purpose quite staggers me, and indeed all sorts of ideas and notions have been going round in my head since I read your letter. However, a project of this importance and size needs very, very careful thought to ensure that from the beginning it goes along the right lines.’

The two continued to correspond about the idea but, sadly, Stanley died in 1968 before he could put his plans into action. However, two years after his death May and Barbara established two horticultural trusts, one in the US and one in the UK, fulfilling Stanley’s vision. Later, in 1977, May created the May & Stanley Smith Trust, which merged with the US horticultural trust in 2010. At the start the two trusts were jointly administered by Sir George but were overseen by separate boards of trustees.

Since its inception in 1970 the UK Trust had disbursed grants in excess of £3.2m to over a thousand recipients.