"We are Luddites" - Peter George's article in RGQ 70 #1

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Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

I finally got my Rock Garden Quarterly and read the subject article; "We Are Luddites" (even though I'm not a Luddite ;D).  I can echo sentiments expressed above by other forumists, particularly in terms of Peter's forward-looking projects that make NARGS interests and resources more accessible to members.  But I do not sympathize with the depiction of NARGS being perched at the precipice of doom, gloom, and utter demise. :o

Nor do I share the dreary picture painted of the NARGS website.  With post-publication mitigating comments relative to the difficulties of the web site "backbone", regarding obstacles to flexibility in providing updates and adding new features, I'm sure that's true, as 3 years in technology terms equates to a human "generation", indicating technology obsolescence. Attributing "shortsightedness" to the NARGS.org website doesn't bode well for me; also perhaps not for those involved who expended huge effort to making it all happen in the first place. It might very well be time to update the site for technological reasons alone, much less so because of any inherent flaws or substandard design; it's a good web site. The awesome 2011-2012 on-line seed exchange ordering demonstrates its intrinsic value.

In the article's estimation of what works and doesn't, I cannot agree with "the [seed] Exchange became stale" (wasn't the surplus seed distribution implemented in these so-called stale years). Myself and a small army of unpaid volunteers gave up a good number of full weekend days preparing NARGS Seed Exchange orders for two years that NARGS New England Chapter handled the seed order fulfillment process; again in the so-called stale years.  Other chapters did the same.  It is stated the "Rock Garden Quarterly became a liability" on one hand, then cited in the same article as the only current NARGS function as a positive, described as an "outstanding quarterly publication".  I recognize the juncture in time being referred to here, but it is unfair to the monumental amount of effort in previous years. I have worked with all of the NARGS editors over the past +30 years that I've been a ARGS/NARGS member, and have had excellent experience with all of them.  I value each and every NARGS Quarterly bulletin that I have, and look forward to the day where this tremendous resource is digitized and made available to NARGS members, an inspired idea and objective in my opinion.

In the items of things mentioned as working (just one, the current NARGS Quarterly), there is no mention whatsoever of the very place you are reading this, the NARGS Forum, an on-line community for rock gardeners and plant lovers of all sorts, the "Facebook" for rock gardeners ;D  A little over a year ago, the NARGS Forum was opened up to any internet applicant, requiring a huge amount of work, the work continuing to this day where Forum membership applications need to be vetted daily and either accepted or rejected.  We have a "plugin" installed on NARGS Forum (thanks Hugh!) that automatically rejects approximately 100 bogus spammer registration requests each and every day, but many bogus registration requests still get through daily... each is researched (we have tools, but it is still time consuming), and we quietly do our duty each day to make all of this happen.  The NARGS Forum could be instrumental in increasing membership, it needs to be recognized and promoted.

To be continued...

Mark McDonough Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5 antennaria at aol.com  

IMYoung
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-31
Quote:

The NARGS Forum could be instrumental in increasing membership, it needs to be recognized and promoted.

That is very true. The Forum can be a terrific tool to enthuse readers and draw in members.

Ian  and/or Margaret Young ( -here it is usually Margaret) Aberdeen , North East Scotland, UK Zone 8a

www.srgc.net

Tim Ingram
Title: Member
Joined: 2011-04-27

I would certainly echo Mark's comments about the value of the website and forum. I can only compare it with the other alpine forums and for me it is where I obtain the most solid and useful information, and it has a distinctive presence which is made by the contributors and hopefully will always attract new gardeners. The bigger problem is simply making far more people (gardeners or incipient gardeners) aware  of where gardening can really take you. In Britain hugely more people are members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (and have a very extensive knowledge of Natural History) than belong to specialised plant societies, or even the Royal Horticultural Society. In our perception of the Natural World plants do not hold the same cachet as animals, and this must be a reason why proper studies of plants in the wild are never televised. Unless and until there is some shift in this perception it seems unlikely that greater numbers of people will consider gardening as many of us do.

David may be right that in America there is less need to be concerned. For one thing as a country you have a wonderful flora which will always tempt people like me who would like to learn more about it. In Britain the AGS does have greater problems, to an extent because our Society is a lot less democratic in its make up and we do have very few younger people becoming involved, which to me is an extraordinary failing when you consider all the things that plants teach us. Even in the Czech Republic, which is renowned for its rock gardening (and seed collectors!) there is a decline in the alpine societies. It does seem that a huge amount depends on the individuals that inspire others, and as Mark says, contribute very strongly to the Societies.

Since the same problems seem to run across many different specialised societies, it could be a time to come together and promote much better tv programmes on plants, as I have said before. There are huge possibilities here varying from more ambitious ideas of looking at alpine plants across the world, to probably more realisable ones of the detective stories of searching for certain plants in dramatic situations, to actually building gardens with these plants, something that many of us find completely compelling. All of these could illustrate the out and out excitement of 'proper' gardening with plants.

I sympathise with Peter and those charged with running the Society because attracting new members can be such a hard task and many of us just take this as something that happens without much involvement from us. It will be very interesting to see where the discussion leads.

Dr. Timothy John Ingram Faversham, Kent, UK I garden in a relatively hot and dry region (for the UK!), with an annual rainfall of around 25", winter lows of -10°C and summer highs of 30°C.  

IMYoung
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-31
IMYoung wrote:

Quote:

The NARGS Forum could be instrumental in increasing membership, it needs to be recognized and promoted.

That is very true. The Forum can be a terrific tool to enthuse readers and draw in members.

As a further comment to this.... for the SRGC, five out of every six new members come via the website.

As an international club, the SRGC Forum has also become the equivalent of a "local chapter" where members separated by thousands of miles can find  common ground and convene for all the plant discussion and social interaction that is afforded to those lucky enough to be able to take part in chapter activities locally.  Of course NARGS has an international membership too (witness the number of overseas members taking part in the forum) but with the huge land mass that is North America, the forum can be just a vital a meeting place for "home" members!

Ian  and/or Margaret Young ( -here it is usually Margaret) Aberdeen , North East Scotland, UK Zone 8a

www.srgc.net

Peter George
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-09-03

I must say that I'm pleased about the responses to my article. I have also received about 90 emails from members around the globe with a variety of comments, some of which are quite illuminating and candid. I am looking forward to the conversation continuing and I will comment here as often as I can, and try to address the responses a few at a time.

Let's start with the membership issue. We have an organization with somewhere between 2600 and 3000 members. We have about 2650 actual memberships, but quite a few are for multiple people, so that accounts for the uncertainty of our 'real' membership number. The primary areas of concern for me are two: first, our chapters, all found in North America, have a much larger aggregate membership than NARGS does. Second, our membership is aging, and our median age is moving 'up' as well.

The first issue is a simple one to describe, but a difficult one to address. In simple terms, there are literally thousands of people in the U.S. and Canada who are interested enough in rock gardening to join Chapters, but for one or more reasons, won't join NARGS. To me, that issue is the single biggest challenge confronting us today. I've spoken to hundreds of people about it over the years, and I believe that the problem is the result of two factors. First, the Chapters themselves are not 'selling' NARGS to the members. We have a number of Chapters where the total NARGS membership is as small as 5%, which is (to me, at least) absolutely unacceptable. We are offering our members a tremendous value, yet among our most logical 'demographic,' we can't persuade a majority of people to join NARGS. Second, we are offering benefits like the Speaker's Tour to Chapters that have no apparent commitment to NARGS, and whose membership is made up of people who have no financial stake in NARGS. It's not unreasonable to ask why NARGS is subsidizing speakers for Chapters that are simply not interested in promoting NARGS membership, and whose members simply won't join. Yesterday I received the membership list of a well established NARGS Chapter with over 100 members and I compared it to the NARGS membership list. I found that of the 105 Chapter members, 23 were NARGS members! And this Chapter is going to get a speaker from the 2012 tour, which we are subsidizing. Is that fair?

The second issue, aging membership, is also a difficult one to address. I've heard from a lot of people about this issue, and there are a couple of threads that run through all of the responses. One surprising problem is the difficulty new people have in getting integrated into Chapters. They join NARGS, go to a chapter meeting, are ignored, go again, continue to be ignored, and then stop coming. I personally experienced this when I joined NARGS in 1996, but instead of quitting entirely, I simply attended a different chapter where I was received much more enthusiastically. But it appears that I was the exception, and that far too many younger newbies are put off by the insularity of the Chapter members, and quit before they ever really have a chance to feel like family. The second problem is that younger people either don't have time for meetings given work and family responsibilities, or the meetings themselves are not all that interesting. I've suggested using video to capture and store lectures, etc. and using the website to stream them, allowing members to access programs remotely. And some of my other suggestions would offer potential for addressing the 'don't have time for meetings' issue, and perhaps would get us more members over time, particularly younger members.

I'll continue to post my thoughts, and please, continue to post yours.

Peter George, Petersham, MA (north central MA, close to the NH/VT borders), zones 5b and 6 around the property.

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

The point about Chapters using NARGS's benefits without contributing is very valid.  But I wouldn't want to make a speaker tour unavailable to a non-contributing Chapter.  I am not at all suggesting that Peter implied this.  My point is, how can we make this more fair?Maybe a set NARGS Speaker Tour fee,  that can then be adjusted with credits earned by the Chapter for contributing to the national Society.  Credits might be garnered by helping with the Seed Exchange, percentage of Chapter members that are national members, hosting study weekends, or helping in other ways.

-------------------The younger generations in general are a lot more "sensitive" to offense (real or imagined) and more "needy" than older folks for the most part.  We can't change that or ignore it.  Our Chapter tries to seek out new attendees visiting at our  meetings, and also gives them recognition during the short business meeting, so that all have the chance to greet the guest(s).  It can be difficult to fit this in among all the conversation with people that we don't see, except at meetings, but we must make the effort.  As Peter says, it is very important.

--------------I joined the National Organization right away, when I joined the Chapter.  I was daunted by the academic style of the Bulletins: except for the photographs, it all seemed greek to me, and I dropped the membership for a while.  But I think the new formatting of the Rock Garden Quarterly in the last year has address that successfully.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

And now for something a bit different.  As I mentioned before, I'm not a fan of Facebook for a number of reasons, but have acquiesced to its dominance in the social networking front, and now "meet up" with a number of plant people and plant groups regularly.  Hint:  if you ever need to find Panayoti, look into some of the Facebook plant "Groups" ;D  Just joined another one tonight named "Hardy Stonecrops" with some excellent photos and discussion posted on sedums, sempervivums, orostachys and such. I wish these people would post as much on the plant forums such as NARGS & SRGC.

Once on Facebook and joining some FB groups, and accumulating some plantsy-type FB "friends", your Facebook "newsfeed" is filled daily with plant news, postings, and photos, mixed in with any and all other items that get auto-populated to one's newsfeed.  You might find the damnedest things showing up, it's a constant visual potpourri, with items that might pique one's curiosity, a constant ticker-tape of ticklers, although much of it frivolous blather.  Frankly, I'd much rather be in the NARGS Forum, where the repository of knowledge is forever growing and building a tremendous knowledgebase, unlike Facebook with its ephemeral "newsfeed"; after a certain amount of stuff scrolls by, in a couple weeks it's no longer retrievable (unless photos and content are posted to Groups or personal FB photo galleries).  But it seems, some people are really drawn to the Facebook experience, so again, I acquiesce.

Sometimes really interesting things get posted.  One such item, was a photo of unidentified cushion plants growing in black soil; a most compelling photo of surreal effect.  It was posted by Plantifleurs L'Univers, the photo entitled 'Rarefaction Italy', and a plant person on FB asked the question, what plant do you think these cushions are, with a reasonable guess of Dianthus.  To me, the plants had more of a Saponaria look, with the flowers at the perimeter of the cushions.  The puzzle was before me, so I sprung into action, bounded into Google, flipped to Images mode, and typed in keywords; something like saponaria volcanic Italy, and lo and behold, a similar image popped up of the same area, ends up being Saponaria sicula, a rare endemic species growing in black volcanic soil atop Mt. Etna, Sicily.  How cool is that.  

An image of my Facebook page, with the Plantifleurs L'Univers photo entitled 'Rarefaction Italy' on my newsfeed, to show non-Facebook users what the newsfeed looks like.

Facebook link (note: Facebook links might not work for non-Facebook folks):Plantifleurs L'Univers photo entitled 'Rarefaction Italy' http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.105144526246201.8982.100002519622435&type=3#!/photo.php?fbid=209547339139252&set=a.105144526246201.8982.100002519622435&type=3&theater

Facebook link to Plantifleurs L'Univers super-duper amazing photo gallery!  (fantastic landscapes, some plants too)http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.105144526246201.8982.1000025196...

Flickr photo (this will work for everyone): Saponaria sicula (Endemic flora of Mount Etna to 2.000 m)http://www.flickr.com/photos/luigistrano/6064835036/

2nd photo, close-up of Saponaria sicula and Senecio aetnensis:http://www.flickr.com/photos/luigistrano/6064835692/in/photostream/

Mark McDonough Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5 antennaria at aol.com  

Anonymous
Title: Guest

The best advice I can give is a quote attributed to the late Steve Jobs.

“There’s a phrase in Buddhism, ‘Beginner’s mind.’ It’s wonderful to have a beginner’s mind.”

James

Tim Ingram
Title: Member
Joined: 2011-04-27

I wish this sort of open debate would occur on the AGS site because it is much needed. The comments that Peter makes about the NARGS Chapters apply similarly in the UK and there has been much discussion about Group members not joining the parent Society, and also the difficulty of new members integrating into Groups - this must certainly be true for younger people even with the best will in the world. One way I have tried to push to get round this is is to use our gardens as a way of introducing new gardeners to the Society. This has the benefit of being much more personal, and has the added benfit of raising money for the Groups. Another is concentrating more on propagating and selling plants, which again is essentially what new gardeners are most interested in. For some gardeners given the right initial stimulation it can be a very rapid learning curve to becoming completely fascinated by plants, and here the web and this forum must kick in to provide much more interaction.

James - I'm not so sure about Buddha; he justs sits there beatifically and doesn't do a great deal! But the beginner's mind does seem very apposite.

Dr. Timothy John Ingram Faversham, Kent, UK I garden in a relatively hot and dry region (for the UK!), with an annual rainfall of around 25", winter lows of -10°C and summer highs of 30°C.  

AmyO
AmyO's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-06

"One surprising problem is the difficulty new people have in getting integrated into Chapters. They join NARGS, go to a chapter meeting, are ignored, go again, continue to be ignored, and then stop coming."

Peter, I had the exact same experience when I joined my chapter and did stop attending meetings. If it wasn't for the then newly elected pres. of the group...Tom Clark....I would never have gone back. He was the only member who did welcome me and I'm sure others after he sent out a questionaire asking what in particular could be improved on in the chapter. As well as other pointed questions. I did let him know my personal experience with the group, and went back to a lecture I really wanted to see...he was so welcoming and I could see how he took my experience to heart. I am now good friends with many of the chapter members, but I was the one who had to make most of the overtures of friendship with the older members. And I know I am now more mindful of this when I see a new face in the group.

Amy Olmsted Hubbardton, VT, Zone 4

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