Luring in younger bulb growers

Jane McGary
Fri, 18 Oct 2013 12:31:03 PDT
To answer Ina's question, PBS membership (the paid membership, not 
the much larger number who subscribe to this discussion list) has 
been increasing slowly for at least the past three years and 
presently stands at around 380. The number of new members slightly 
exceeds those who drop out annually. Most new members are recruited 
via the PBS website, often attracted by the archived BX offering 
lists. Sometimes they use the Contact feature to ask a question, 
specific or general. Most of these come first to me, and I answer 
them if I can, or I post them to this list so others can answer them. 
The inquirers often join PBS as a result.

An aging demographic is a problem for almost all plant societies and 
is much discussed. There are many recognized causes. Young people 
today mostly move around a lot, especially the well-educated 
population who typically become interested in rare plants, so they 
may not garden. We have obvious exceptions, such as outgoing PBS 
president Nhu Nguyen, who has been maintaining a large collection in 
containers until his recent job-related move to Minneapolis, and 
indeed myself (I had a flower garden in the back yard of my appalling 
rental house when I was an undergraduate, and I built my first rock 
garden outside my utility-free Alaskan cabin with rocks stolen from a 
road construction site). If you love plants enough, you'll find a 
way. Then once people get a house, they may also acquire children, 
and the plant club loses them to Youth Soccer (football) for years 
and years. Finally, there are many very specialized groups focused on 
a single genus, and I think they're suffering most of all; PBS is 
wise to appeal to such a wide range of regions and specialties.

I think the best solution to this problem is just to reach out in 
whatever way we, as individuals as well as organizations, can find. 
I'm plotting right now to influence the new garden writer for our 
metropolitan newspaper, who admits she doesn't know much but has to 
prepare features for novice gardeners. A few weeks ago the young 
woman who cut my hair was telling me about her cactus and succulent 
collection, grown on an apartment balcony, and I realized she had the 
right instincts and told her so. Our rock garden group has monthly 
meetings that are open to the public at no cost (unlike the upscale 
Hardy Plant Society), and we produce enough door prizes to make sure 
visitors usually get one. When I moved into my new home three years 
ago, one of the first things I did was build an instant rock garden 
and a bulb bed right along the street and fill them with plants I 
knew would perform reliably and attract the eyes of passers-by -- 
something interesting every day of the year, and mostly plants that 
aren't well known. (The rare plants and the ones I suspect will die 
are in the tufa beds and covered Mediterranean house in the BACK 
yard.) I've even considered getting one of those brochure holders 
used at houses for sale and stocking it with recruiting brochures for 
our rock garden society. In fact, streetside "visual proselytizing" 
is a longstanding practice among rock gardeners, and bulb growers can 
use it too (it's harder to steal a bulb than a saxifrage, too).

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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