Today saw the start of the 2017 lecture season for the Suffolk group of Plant Heritage. I arrived rather early, since I'd volunteered to help put chairs out. This was prompted in equal parts by a genuine desire to be helpful, knowing that helping is one of the best ways of getting to know other club members, and an entirely selfish desire to have a reason to arrive early to get a parking space. The Plant Heritage group is well supported, and there are barely enough spaces as it is and some of them are so small and tight I find it jolly tricky wriggling in and out of them. Stowupland is one of those linear villages with a busy B road running through it and very limited on-street parking, while the village hall car park is shared with the next door sports field which is sometimes in use on Saturday afternoons. One way and another it pays to be early.
The committee member in charge of chairs seemed happy with my handiwork, but when we all sat down ready for the lecture the woman next to me remarked that they had put the chairs really close together. I did not admit that it had been me, but filed the observation away for next time. I'd been generous with the gaps between rows, but she was right, I should have spaced them out sideways. Being fairly small myself I forget that some others spread more than I do.
The lecture was by the editor of the RHS specialist publications, which include The Plantsman magazine, the Orchid Review, the RHS Plant Finder, various yearbooks and some gardening books. I don't subscribe to any of them. I am slightly surprised anybody still buys the Plant Finder in hard copy given that all the information is searchable online. The Plantsman is aimed at keen plant lovers whose desire to read stuff about plants is not fully satisfied by the RHS monthly magazine sent to all members. The Plantsman covers genus reviews, plant hunting, advanced cultivation and propagation techniques, plant breeding, horticultural science, taxonomy and nomenclature, and RHS trials. It is only sixty four pages long, and only slightly bigger than A5, but contains mostly articles and not advertising, mainly because as the editor ruefully admitted most specialist growers took the view that anybody that interested in plants would already have heard of them. Oh, and it has a circulation of only 3,000.
It was interesting hearing how a magazine is put together, and I have enjoyed leafing through my freebie sample issue of The Plantsman which I shall read properly at some point. The December 2016 edition includes articles on propagating cylamens by cuttings (new to me), genetic diversity or lack thereof in cultivated and wild populations of Acer griseum, dahlias in Mexico, and the great plantswoman Valerie Finnis. I am not sure I'll be taking out a subscription, though, because it is £29 a year to RHS members (more to non members). £7.25 per issue seems a lot for quite a slim magazine. You can pick up a whole hardback book for that on Amazon, if you are patient about stalking titles until they are remaindered and the internet is briefly awash with new copies, or if you don't mind going second hand. Public libraries weeding their collections can be a useful source. Some of the ex library books I've bought don't look as though they had ever been borrowed.
I mentioned the price and the circulation figures of The Plantsman to the Systems Administrator, who said briskly that it was too expensive. I think it probably is. On the basis of today's figures less than one per cent of the entire RHS membership are subscribers. If the RHS dropped the price could they get this up to two or three per cent? They don't really promote The Plantsman at all on their website. I logged on to the home page to check how much the magazine cost but couldn't see any link to publications, and when I experimentally tried clicking on shop that got me to various books I could buy but still not their specialist magazines or year books. I typed plantsman magazine into the search box but the message came up that it was unable to find any results, though it did suggest I try some of the more popular search terms Diary Mugs Gold Leaf Gardening Gloves and Address Book. In the end I found the right page using Google.