The Future.....

Nick de Rothschild
Tue, 02 Oct 2012 08:05:56 PDT
AS President of the Nerine and Amaryllid Society here in the UK this is one of the questions that continually concern us as a society: How on earth do we attract younger members? It is an uphill struggle indeed. We have a stand at the annual RHS Autumn Show where we show off nerines and the idea of a society which organises trips to collections, has a bulb exchange, and generally promotes the genus with a bulletin every quarter (though this is possibly slipping to twice a year.) 

Those who run the society are all generally all retired and in our 60s upwards. Some of the membership are younger. The problem, however, is a fundamental one. When we were young and TV was poor and limited and there were no computers or the Internet, we collected things: stamps, cigarette cards, tea cards, we read our encyclopedias to garner knowledge, we had much more freedom to explore the great outdoors and come into contact with nature. Today's children and youth have a completely different set of experiences, they don't collect, they socialise electronically, outdoors has become more constrained by health and safety, plant collecting from the wild is frowned upon, and collecting material from abroad is subject to customs harassment, biodiversity issues etc, etc, etc.

The ready availability of house-plant product as a supermarket item has made for another throw-away industry, where the mass grower really hopes that the plant he has sold you will die and be replaced, rather than nurtured in a greenhouse and propagated from. The education system in most countries now plays to the lowest common denominator so there is no longer any in depth knowledge of plants and speciation. Here it is cyclamen season where it is the showiest hybrids that win the day, no one cares where the plant originally came from or that there are x number of fascinating species. 

We are showing off our collection of nerine sarniensis hybrids in our gallery at Exbury Gardens and make sure we integrate informational displays about where the plants come from and how the hybrids were arrived at.  Our public likes that. But to get someone who then says, "Oh I'd like to start a collection." That we have yet to have.  We get given plant and bulb collections as people get old and wonder what to do with what they have spent a lifetime assembling simply because their children say that they'd put it all on the bonfire.   Greenhouses are old peoples' toys or confined to botanical gardens, (there are, of course, exceptions), or are in the domain of the rich who can afford the luxury of a proper gardener.

How will the Facebook Generation grow up? Will they look for old-fashioned pleasures like pottering about tending rare and wonderful plants? Sadly I doubt it.

All we can do is keep casting our net upon the waters and hope we will snare enough 'fish' to keep the accumulated knowledge of the past alive. So much proper knowledge of common sense and the world we live in has been lost for ever.

Yrs gloomily

Nick de Rothschild

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