Tuesday, 18 October 2016

are you talking to me?

I applied for our Chelsea Flower Show tickets the other day.  They are quite eye-wateringly expensive, and I have to tell myself that it is the greatest flower show on earth, besides which I don't go to international sports matches or stadium rock concerts or Glyndebourne, or even the Royal Festival Hall nowadays, so Chelsea is pretty much the only premium event that I do in the whole year.  And I love it, and Hampton Court doesn't have the same buzz, even if it is less crowded.

The RHS has 450,000 members according to their magazine, so it's just as well that they don't all want to go to Chelsea.  Or maybe they do, and some people who didn't remember to book the previous October are disappointed.  I have been reading some of the accumulated pile of magazines on my desk, before filing them in date order in boxes down in the garage.  So far I have not found anything about the withdrawal of Provado root drench and what we are supposed to do about root aphid.  I emailed the question to the RHS but their website warned that replies to queries could take a couple of weeks.

I wonder what the membership profile is?  I would guess predominantly older, mainly middle class, mostly suburban and rural.  I am probably typical.  I don't think the RHS has ever asked me, not that I like filling in those surveys that ask you about your age and ethnicity before getting to the meat of the issue, what is your household income?  I sometimes get the slight feeling that the RHS is not really talking to me.  They seem rather fixated on youth.  How to encourage more young people to take up gardening as a career.  Up-and-coming young designers.  Gardening in schools. Also the environment.  Campaigns to stop front gardens being paved over.  Wild flowers on verges. Peat free compost.

It isn't that I have anything against young people, or believe that urban flooding is a good thing.  I am very much in favour of gardens and gardening and pollinating insects.  It's just that sometimes I get the slight feeling the RHS is so busy on its self-imposed mission of converting the masses and especially the young that it forgets about the greying, mad keen experienced gardeners who stump up their £57 per annum membership fee to keep the show on the road.  For that you get free double entry to the four gardens owned by the RHS, entry for one only to a longer list of gardens opting to work as partnership gardens, the right to buy tickets to the first two days of the Chelsea Flower Show when it is less crowded and some displays may be looking fresher than by day four, a monthly magazine, free admission to a reducing number of London flower shows, access to a fairly cheap though no longer free seed list, use of the Lindley Library, and access to a plant advice and pathology service.

Which is all very nice as far as it goes, though how useful it is depends on where you live.  Starting from north Essex I can make it to the London events but free entry to Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr near Harrogate is about as useful as the Tate members' free access to exhibitions in St Ives.  There are some very good partnership gardens, but you need to visit quite a lot of gardens to save £57 worth of entry fees.  The seeds on the seed list are mostly not especially rare and plant enthusiasts would probably do better with one of the specialist societies.  I can see that the magazine has to cater for a range of levels of gardening experience and knowledge (and if I wanted something really detailed and nerdily plant focused I could pay extra and subscribe to the quarterly The Plantsman).

But here, off the top of my head, are some ideas on topics I bet would be of direct personal interest to quite a few of the 450,000 subscribing members.  Finding a good gardener.  How to cultivate a productive long term relationship with your gardener when you've found them.  How to spot when the slow changes and accumulated errors of a quarter of a century call for wholesale renewal in your garden.  How to summon the heart to do it.  Gardening with a bad back or hip replacements. Getting to grips with the garden after an enforced absence from gardening.  What it's like to downsize your garden.  Growing your garden club's membership.  Finding people to serve on the committee.  Organising garden group visits.  I have a hunch that more of the members would be able to identify with three or four of the topics on that list than are every going to be involved in inner city community gardening.

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