The changing face of garden ‘clubs’

Trollius x cultorum 'Alabaster'
Trollius x cultorum 'Alabaster'

I have found myself pondering a lot recently on how I appear to be inhabiting two very different garden club worlds, which to me seem as though they will never come together.

The first garden club is a local club which is part of a national society.  I joined the society about 4 or 5 years ago at a point in time where I was trying to connect with a gardening community instead of gardening in isolation.  I quickly joined the local group in the hope that I would make real connections. However, a lot of preconceptions caused me to hesitate in deciding to join the local group.  The main one being age.  I know in this age of political correctness we aren’t meant to prejudge people based on age, race, sexuality etc etc etc and I do like to think that I am a very open-minded person but if I am honest I was pretty certain that the average age would be much older than mine (mid 40s) and that this would have some impact on how the club worked.  I wasn’t wrong, I suspect the average age of the group is 65 and after 4 years as a member, the last 3 on the committee I do think that this has an influence on how the club works and where it is (or isn’t going).

I have become increasingly discouraged, particularly at a national level, at the intransigent nature of many of the members and the complete resistence to change.  Now I’m not one of those people who believes that things should be changed for the sake of it but I do get frustrated when people say they want change but when opportunities to bring about that change are presented to them, they have 100 excuses not to take up the ideas.  My society has very vocally declared that it wants to attract younger members, after all these, they say, are the members of the future.  However, there is a reluctance to embrace modern technology, beyond a dated web-site and the regular  magazine is more like a parish magazine.  There have been attempts to bring about change but they are met with brick-walls.  Locally, whilst members of the committee strive to bring the group into the 21st century, it is one of the few groups that has its own web-site, few of the members engage with the website and a recent questionnaire showed that they were happy to continue with visits to gardens within a small radius and have talks some of which are little more than slide shows set to music.

In the last two and half years I have wandered into a different garden club – a virtual one.  It started with me writing a gardening blog, more as a way of keeping a record of what was happening in my garden.  Then I encountered Blotanical where there are literally 1000s of garden blogs from all around the world.  Here, over the last two years I have encountered many enthusiastic gardeners, some I would count now as real friends, others I don’t read so often but pop in from time to time.  I am constantly exploring new blogs as my interests in gardening and horticulture develop.  As I have recorded on this blog I have met quite a few of my blogging friends, to start with on a one to one basis and then more recently en mass at the Meet@Malvern extraveganza.  It is to these friends I turn for advice and encouragement especially as many of them are on Twitter.  This virtual ‘garden club’ satisfies my inquisitiveness to know more about horticulture than the real garden club.

I have chatted about this with a few people, some of them garden bloggers, and I  suspect that as I only really got into horticulture about 10 years ago and am passionate about plants that my hunger for knowledge is very different to what the majority of my real garden club members are looking for.  They are looking for an afternoon out, where they meet up with friends and have a chat about something they enjoy.  This is great and don’t get me wrong I am not deriding it in any way.  However, I  suspect that many people my age and younger who have embraced horticulture, and there are lots of 30-something newbie veg growers out there, are looking for more than the traditional garden club can offer, they want information.  We are after all the information generation and we know how to access it and we want the information now!

This leaves me wondering what will happen to the traditional garden clubs.  I don’t know – I suspect they will continue on much as they are now, after all some of them have been going for a very long time and they do fill a need for a lot of people.  Personally, I have got so frustrated with the society I belong to at a national level that I won’t be renewing my membership this year instead I am hoping to do a RHS certificate which will give me the information and knowledge that I am so thirsty for and I will continue to belong to the virtual garden club with a worldwide membership including some very knowledgeable, clever and most importantly humourous people, who are only to happy to share and pass on what they know.

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

23 thoughts on “The changing face of garden ‘clubs’”

  1. An interesting post – and true around the world, I’d think, and not just about gardeners. I’m planning a post on how blogging is replacing garden books as a source of knowledge, and I will link to your post as they are quite complimentary. Jean’s socialogical approach is also fascinating.

    1. Sequoiagardens – happy for you to link to this post. Will be interested to see your post about blogging replacing garden books, I’m not completely convinced on that

      Anna – I wont be letting the club know why I’m not renewing my membership later this year, I doubt they are really interested, too much of a little click

      Yolanda – I read your post about setting up your own club and I do think your type of club sounds more my thing, but at the moment I have other plans for my spare time in the coming year which will hopefully lead to more garden friends to go on visits with

      Jackie – thanks for the encouragment to do the RHS Cert, I do think it is the way forward for me

  2. Oh Helen, I agree, it is so sad to see the resistance to change in the traditional clubs. I love my own garden club, but find that these days I’m learning more, and talking plants more online than within the club. As the membership ages, it’s harder to find helpers for projects, and that is how I’ve learned in the past: digging around and talking plants in someone else’s garden.

  3. Your feelings are the same as mine. I would love to join a local garden club, but they really do not seem interested in gardening. The members seem to focus more on flower arranging and the social aspects of having a day out. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is not what I am looking for. The Master Gardener program seems to be an alternative since that is about actually gardening. Blogging has been great for me; it is a virtual garden club as you stated. I think the “traditional” garden clubs will not survive unless they start emphasizing actually gardening instead of flower arranging since people now (and I don’t only mean young people) are more interested in landscaping and plants.

    Always Growing

  4. A fascinating topic which we could spend a long time talking about. Sad to hear that you will not be renewing your membership of the national group (I think that I know the identity of the group that you are talking about) and agree with many of your observations. It will be their loss as it is folk like you who could influence future developments and bring about change, albeit at a slower pace than you would wish for 🙂 Will you be letting the group know why you are not renewing your membership?

  5. Really glad to hear you are going to do the RHS certificate – I did it last year and it was absolutely fascinating and I met lots of new friends all around my age (mid 40s like you) all of whom are really keen gardeners, growing veg and flowers. I would recommend the course to anyone!
    I have gone on to take a BTEC in Horticulture and Garden Design which finished this May and am now starting work as a garden designer…

  6. Our local Horticultural Society (of which I am not a member, though my husband it) is an interesting combination of things. It is made up predominantly of older people and the social side of things for some of them is important. There are outings from time to time and a monthly evening meeting.

    At the same time, its membership is massive and stretches far beyond our neighbourhood because of the shows it organises. It owns its own building and has a garden shop which opens three half days a week during summer and two during the winter.

    Until recently, newsletters were delivered by hand by local area reps. That has come to an end now and everything is on line. I’m younger than most members (at least, younger than the ones I’ve seen) and use the computer a lot but, whereas I used to read the paper version of the newsletter, I never read the virtual one. I’m worried that one of the few engaged door-to-door deliveries would some of the older, frail members of the community more isolated.

    Lots of contradictions.

    Seems you are finding ways to balance your own gardening needs. That’s it, I suppose. Where possible, be eclectic.


  7. I enjoy both. The virtual garden is good for tracking down what the botanists are calling that, nowadays. And the garden club gives me passalongs that I can plant in the garden – LOTS of aloes, Spanish moss, deepest magenta carnations (from the floral art dem, and then we raffle off the cut flowers!)

  8. Sadly but inevitably it is the more mature amongst us who have the time to run & be involved in clubs, societies & even politics. No bad thing on the whole but it can lead to all sorts of issues which you have written about so excellently.

    You’ve tried changing from within so I think you need to find some supporters & plan a take-over coup, a putsch, a coup d’etat. It’s the only way. Does it count as guerilla gardening?

  9. Very true. I am in a local garden club, plus a Perennial Plant Society on the state level. The local garden club started more as a social club and I am the youngest by far in my club. The PPS has over 200 members and a wide range of ages. I find change is coming to the clubs. We no longer focus on plant arranging and do spend a lot of time outside doing. The national organization is heavily focusing on recruiting new members and now they’ll take just about anyone who wants to join. Big change from when social status came into play. There are still some keeping the old ways but those clubs are losing members like crazy, just like a lot of social organization in our society. You know what Darwin says…

  10. I got into gardening and horticulture about 10 years ago too. In that time I’ve studied it and it has now provided me with a career. Gardening has been a hobby throughout. It has also been a way of meeting some of the nicest people in the world.

    I am always really keen to meet young gardeners. A passion for plants at a young age is more and more inspiring as I get older. I also have gardening friends who are much older, who impart so much wisdom and knowledge.

    Rob (27 and 1 week)

  11. This was a really interesting post. I have always thought it would be fun to join a garden club, but around here there really aren’t any to join. Since blogging I’ve found that I enjoy the virtual “garden club” quite a bit. Hopefully once my youngest is off to school I’ll have more opportunities to join some type of garden club or plant society.

  12. There are quite a few garden clubs in my area. Some are as you describe and finding it hard to drum up new members. I spoke to a group a few months ago and one elderly lady had to be woken up at the end of the slide show. I didn’t think it was boring, but maybe that’s my ego talking;)

    I’ve noticed the clubs that are embracing twitter, facebook, websites, etc. are getting a lot of interest from the younger gardeners. And not just technology but the new ways to design outdoor spaces and the hot planting trends (veggie gardens, foliage, sustainability) Blotanical has been wonderful, too. Trading info and seeing how other parts of the world garden has been fascinating.


    Christine in Alaska

  13. Very thought-provoking. I struggle a bit with the garden clubs that I am a member of locally. I am not as old as the members — as hard as I try I can’t seem to connect with them. I feel shut out simply by virtue of my age ~ which is so silly. We all love flowers so what’s the big deal?

  14. Interesting Helen, this posting has highlighted something for me too. I hear exactly what you are saying on the traditional garden club but on another level too. I’ll try not to go too far of topic here 🙂

    I don’t use twitter, on the main as blogging takes a huge chunk of my time. I don’t get to blog browsing/comment as much as I would like as it is and that makes me sad.

    I am now increasingly feeling that I am being left behind my garden blogging friends as I don’t use twitter. I feel twitter is the new garden club for bloggers and I’m afraid I won’t be taking up a membership. So I guess I am bowing out of this club.

    I am a plants person through and through but since blogging I have found a new appreciation for what visits my garden and I want to spread that message too. Balancing the two topics has been tricky as I don’t feel I really belong to the birds/wildlife club either… my comments reflect that. One of my blog aims has been to share a nestbox story. I’m thinking I’ll take my blogging future from there.

    Wishing you all the very best with your membership in the virtual garden club and with your new gardening based courses ahead. Have fun with it all 😀

  15. Wow! this has attracted comment – and am in hurry so will have to read them later and hope I’m not duplicating what everyone else is saying.

    I think part of the problem is about ‘local’. On the net we have thousands of like minded (well, some of us..) to connect with. But in your own backyard how many like minded people are there/ could there be? We have good neighbours and enjoy their company sometimes, but our real friends are spread much more widely geographically.

    The upside of this is that we can, these days, make contact with people very far afield (which can raise our expectations). And if we can contact them we may be able to meet with them but it will involve travel for those of us out of major cities.

    Makes you realise just how very lonely some people must have always been when travel to even the nearest town was a very big deal.

  16. I have tried to join a local garden club (there are several) but I seem to be always missing the meetings. If they had a web presence, I could check in and contribute in the time I have available (which is best described as erratic). Most of the people my age are busy with volunteering at the schools in their free time, so the garden clubs’ membership is mostly those whose children are grown. I think it’s the time factor that does it for the actual garden clubs. Virtual garden clubs are much easier to squeeze in.

  17. Goodness, so many points here that I agree with. Helen, I completely share your frustration with people being reluctant to move with the times and I too have found huge enjoyment/support/information from being part of a virtual club.
    However, like Esther, whereas I read the printed newsletter from Plant Heritage (of which I am supposed to be a member but haven’t paid my subs, ahem), I probably wouldn’t read it online or possibly even in an email version. And like Shirl, I haven’t managed to find a niche in my life for Twitter.
    I think the main point here however is that we use the media we find useful and effective. You give it a try and if it doesn’t work for you, you do something else. I think where the problem arises is when a group doesn’t see the need for any other means of communication other than the one they personally feel comfortable with.
    In a multi-media age, every organisation has to adopt a multi-media approach if they want to survive. You have to offer alternative methods of communication, and if not many people use them, then try something else. It’s not as if it costs very much.

  18. This is an interesting post. I hate to admit, but I am close to being on the older end of the spectrum when it comes to age. (No, not yet! My heart is still young, even if the body protests!) Some older folks aren’t interested in expanding their use of technology, because it is unfamiliar to them. I well remember when a computer took up an entire room and was used only by the military. I think the traditional garden club that meets for social purposes is a lot of fun, but it is a different critter from a serious gardening community. Apples and oranges. Personally, I think the computer age is fantastic! I have really enjoyed the virtual gardening world. Information, inspiration, and gardening soul mates are there, and it meets whenever you want!

  19. Really interesting post, Helen. You have done much more to try and change the local club that many would, by actually getting involved in running it. I occasionally think of joining our local Hort Soc, but get put off by the age thing, though I suspect there would be younger members, too.

    1. Goodness, I didnt expect as many responses to this post as this. It seems that many of you agree with me and its a case of finding what works for you. There is no one size fits all.

      Thank you for your responses and comments

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