The idea of a Society to bring together dendrologists from all over the world arose from a discussion in Belgium in May 1952 between Mr Robert and Mr George de Belder, Dr and Mrs Gerd Krussman and Mr Jacques Lombarts.
This was followed up by a meeting on 18 September 1952 at Kalmthout in Belgium when 14 eminent botanists and gardeners, some professional, some amateur, agreed to form the International Dendrology Union (as it was called until 1965).
The aims of the Society were, and still are, “to promote the study of woody plants and shrubs and to conserve and protect those that are rare and endangered. Candidates for election do not need to possess professional or scientific qualifications but must have a serious interest in woody plants and in particular trees and shrubs”.
Members were to be “any person engaged in effective dendrology work and having the opportunity to experience dendrology"
Originally it was envisaged that there would only be about 50 members, but the Society has grown over the past 60 years and now numbers about 1,800 members from more than 50 countries.
The Tours, originally just visiting other member’s’ gardens in Northern Europe, were the principal activity in the early years and a Tours Committee was established to run the tours programme and encourage members to lead a tour in their own part of the world. The tours programme remains a very important part of the Society’s activities and now runs up to nine tours each year all over the world, some leisurely and comfortable, others to wild areas (such as Tibet and Kyrgyzstan) which can be quite hard and distinctly uncomfortable! But the aim for all tours remains “to give us all fun but not to be too scientific.”
In the mid 1960s, a Conservation Committee (now the Scientific and Education Committee) was set up to oversee the Society’s more technical roles which are really the activities that give the Society its Charitable status. These include the publication of the highly esteemed annual Year Book, conferences, study days to learn about specific genera, bursaries and other sponsorship for young people to attend courses or join one of the tours.
Important milestones in the Society’s life have been the 50th anniversary celebration of its founding held appropriately at the de Belder home at Kalmthout and the 60th anniversary celebration held in Antwerp in 2012.
A further major change to the Society took place in 2018 when it became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), registered in England and Wales number 1178252.