Future of Gardening

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Mon, 01 Oct 2012 14:16:38 PDT
Boyce Tankersley wrote:
>The stalwart venerable plant societies have generally been in 
>decline for about 20 years, some less than others. It seems the 
>older they are, the more they have declined. The internet has 
>removed the need to join to discover sources, and learn about 
>cultivation. Is the plant society a vanishing species?

I think the specialist society may be generally in decline, and 
perhaps some of them continue only because they mount competitive 
shows. However, even England's venerable Alpine Garden Society with 
its many shows is experiencing a fall-off in membership. Here in 
North America we are scattered at such great distances that we just 
can't get together as the Brits and Scots do. Moreover, the smaller a 
society gets, the more likely it may be to fall apart when the tiny 
group of frequent workers get tired of doing everything; or factional 
disputes may doom it when the few members decide it's just not worth 
fighting for. I was saddened recently when one of the most effective 
and prominent members of NARGS told me that she probably would not 
join the Society as it exists today.

The only way to prevent our societies from vanishing is to offer 
benefits through them that can't be obtained any other way. Once this 
was journals and book sales, but as Boyce wrote, the Internet has 
taken over this function to a large extent. Even the photo lectures 
we enjoy have competition from sources such as the PBS wiki and the 
Scottish Rock Garden Club's website. However, you still can't get 
seeds (and bulbs) via cable, nor does a virtual tour compete with the 
field trips available through some groups.

A few years ago I was appointed to head a "think tank" to develop 
ideas for increasing NARGS membership. One idea we floated was to 
establish "interest groups" similar to those sponsored by AGS (e.g., 
the Fritillaria Group, to which I belong), and to draw into these 
people who have specialized collections in, say, certain plant 
families. Such enthusiasts have come together for a few years from 
time to time, for instance as the now defunct Dianthus Society or 
Hepatica Society (now they can exist mostly as e-mail lists, like 
this one, or Trillium-L); or they belong to longstanding groups that 
are now fading away (I won't cite examples, but I'm sure you know of 
some). Leading members of at least two "fading" societies told me 
privately that they would like their groups to affiliate in that way. 
However, NARGS had an ineffective leadership at the time, and our 
report sank without a trace. Another idea in it was to start a 
botanical tour program in association with a tour business (such as 
AGS has with Greentours), but no one could be found to coordinate it.

Perhaps American plant societies will go the way of fraternal/sororal 
organizations like the Elks, Moose, and so on. Their heyday was in 
the decades surrounding 1900, when many American communities were 
forming and stabilizing, and people had fewer leisure activities 
available so they had time to go to meetings. Has the enthusiasm for 
unusual plants thus formed and stabilized to the extent that we no 
longer need anything beyond electronic communication and the 
occasional exchange of material? I hope not: I wish someone would 
show up tomorrow to take a look at Narcissus humilis and Colchicum 
pulchellum here.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

More information about the pbs mailing list