Education of a Gardener
I cancelled my RHS membership this week, well I cancelled the renewal of it. This hasn’t been an easy decision which is ridiculous given that it is just an annual subscription to something.
Just after having made the decision I read an article by Frank Ronan in a copy of Gardens Illustrated from 2008 which talked about whether membership of the RHS was necessary to be a good gardener. In the article he captures all the things I had been musing about and questions whether the membership, about £50 for a single member, is worth it. Like Frank I leave in the West Midlands, near the Welsh borders so I am at least 3 hours drive from any of the RHS gardens which means that to make any visit worthwhile an overnight stay is needed. The monthly magazine, The Garden, is alright but there are far too many advertisements and it is trying to please all its members so there is a bit on vegetables, a bit on ornamentals, a bit on a gardening technique and quite a large section on events around the country. The cover price for the magazine is £4.25 more than Gardens Illustrated which has similar content but it seems with less adverts. I don’t feel that The Garden is worth £4.25.
I prefer the seed distribution schemes run by the Hardy Plant Society and Alpine Garden Society to the RHS’s. I have used the RHS advice centre a couple of times, once getting no response at all. Living where I do the London Shows and Chelsea are a 3.5 hour train journey each way and having been to Chelsea a couple of times I am no longer in a rush to go again – it’s too crowded and there is too much focus on the showgardens for me. A view shared by many keen gardeners I have met in this area.
I know the RHS is a charity and that it carries out research into horticulture etc and this is important but I’m not a charity and I can’t afford to pay for something which I don’t feel is adding anything to my life. When I really got the gardening bug some 6-7 years ago I felt that I had to join the RHS, it was something that good gardeners did. I also subscribed to the two main glossy gardening magazines – Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden. However, after about 3 years I cancelled these subscriptions as the magazines had become repetitive, which in their defence is hardly surprising given the seasonal nature of gardening. The pile of unread magazines had reached a ridiculous height and has only now been read through and disposed off – hence reading a 2008 edition of GI. As well as being repetitive the magazines no longer fulfilled my need for information and knowledge.
As I blogged about earlier this year I have now found and joined a number of specialist societies: The Alpine Garden Society, the Hardy Plant Society (including their Galanthus, Geranium and Ranunculus groups) and my localish horticultural society. More importantly I have gone to the monthly meetings of the local groups and through these I have listened to fascinating talks about plants I had never heard of and met interesting and knowledgeable people who are happy to share their experience with someone who has realised how little she knows. I have learnt more in the last 6 months than I have from 4 or 5 years membership of the RHS or reading the glossy magazines. Finally in the last month I have discovered the Scottish Rock Garden Society Forum which is fantastic – busy, friendly, international and not all about those tiny domes of plants people associate with alpines.
This is what works for me. I think all of these resources, societies, magazines have their own place and all give something to gardeners. When I was on twitter I used to get tired of people moaning about Gardeners World dumming down etc but people forget that gardeners are a vast and varied group of people. They all want something different. Some are into growing edibles, some ornamental, some love plants, some design, some have acres and a gardener, some a window box. To try to be everything to all gardeners only results in the offering being weakened and diluted. I also know that in the UK we are very lucky to have the magazines and television programmes that we have and others in the US and Europe aren’t so lucky.
For me I have had my interest grabbed and held by the beautiful gardens in the magazines and the RHS has encouraged me with practical skills and to visit shows and gardens but now I have moved on to wanting to learn far more about particular plants than they can offer. So I have cancelled my RHS membership although I will continue with the Plantsman that I love. I also get Hortus and the journals from the societies and when I need a sumptuous fix of beautiful gardens I will treat myself to one of the glossies.
I feel like my horticultural education is really underway but there is an incredible amount to learn – it is very exciting.