The RHS promotes horticulture through flower shows including the Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, Tatton Park Flower Show and Cardiff Flower Show. It also supports training for professional and amateur gardeners.
The creation of a British horticultural society was suggested by John Wedgwood (son of Josiah Wedgwood) in 1800. His aims were fairly modest: he wanted to hold regular meetings, allowing the society's members the opportunity to present papers on their horticultural activities and discoveries, to encourage discussion of them, and to publish the results. The society would also award prizes for gardening achievements.
Wedgwood discussed the idea with his friends, but it was four years before the first meeting, of seven men, took place, on 7 March 1804 at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly, London. Wedgwood was chairman; also present were William Townsend Aiton (successor to his father, William Aiton, as Superintendent of Kew Gardens), Sir Joseph Banks (President of the Royal Society), James Dickson (a nurseryman), William Forsyth (Superintendent of the gardens of St. James's Palace and Kensington Palace), Charles Francis Greville (a Lord of the Admiralty) and Richard Anthony Salisbury, who became the Secretary of the new society.
Banks proposed his friend Thomas Andrew Knight for membership. The proposal was accepted, despite Knight's ongoing feud with Forsyth over a plaster for healing tree wounds which Forsyth was developing. Knight was President of the society from 1811–1838, and developed the society's aims and objectives to include a programme of practical research into fruit-breeding.
In 2009, more than 363,000 people were members of the society, and the number increased to more than 414,000 in 2013. Membership and fellowship of the society were previously decided by election, but are now by financial contribution. Fellowship may be secured through a "suggested" £5,000 donation each year.