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

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Anonymous
Title: Guest
Tim wrote:

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.

I went to a Thailand New Years celebration when I was in college.  They were some of the most welcoming and happy people I had ever met.  Maybe the Far East has more to offer us than new and exotic plants...  Maybe more beatification is exactly what the world needs.

James

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

I honestly wish it was so easy. But it's not, and here are the problems.1. Several chapters have simply moved away from NARGS over the past decade, and have little or no interest in being part of the larger organization. They haven't officially separated yet, but if there was a vote taken at the Chapter level, I could name as many as 5 Chapters that would vote to leave NARGS. And among those chapters are several that are both large and vibrant. They do benefit from NARGS to some degree, but what they get as a Chapter is probably not sufficient to increase their level of interest or involvement. 2. Our annual dues are $30. for North Americans, and $5.00 would not be even close to sufficient to cover the real costs of membership. I know that there are some people who can't afford $30 per year, but the truth is that 90% of the Chapter members who are not NARGS members are not in that category. They simply choose not to join. In the past year I've had to deal with several Chapter Chairs who refused to join NARGS, even though NARGS membership is a requirement to serve as a Chapter leader. In one case the Chapter actually had to pay for their Chair's membership, and it was certainly NOT due to poverty. As an organization, our dues are kept to the absolute minimum in order to make it easy to join, and when we find out about someone who is having a problem with the dues, which we do surprisingly often, we simply waive the dues for the year. But we're not going to lower our dues to $5 just to bring in people who have no real interest in NARGS. We might as well open it up to everyone on a voluntary contribution basis. I'm not sure how well that particular financial model would work.3. If "training" Chapter Chairs actually was possible, we'd do it. But in general, most of our Chapters have tremendous resistance to ANY interference from NARGS. We have Chapter Chairs that refuse to even respond to emails from me or Bobby Ward, and we've actually declared a chapter 'inactive' this year, primarily because the Chair refused to communicate with us. Other Chapter Chairs with which I've communicated are just not interested in doing anything beyond having a few meetings a year, and every effort we've made to 'assist' them has been rebuffed or ignored.

I have on several occasions suggested to the Administrative Committee that we require, say, a 50% NARGS membership before Chapters could qualify for being on the Speaker's Tour, or one or two other requirements that could motivate Chapters to promote NARGS membership more successfully. It hasn't gotten any real support. Top down dictates in organizations like NARGS rarely accomplish anything other than alienation, and although it would certainly make ME feel good for a few minutes, it wouldn't accomplish our goals. My own Chapter, the Berkshire Chapter, barely has the 50% membership level, and even though I know every person in the Chapter, and have spoken to each one about the issue, they simply won't join. I truly cannot understand it, but that IS reality. So what we can do is try to improve the organization by making the Quarterly better every issue, improving the internet component, improving our speakers, improving the Seed Exchange, etc. If we make the benefits better, we should get more members. SHOULD!

Keep up the discussion.

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

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

A most excellent question Lis! :o

I hope it doesn't come down to that, as I do enjoy getting to NARGS Chapter meetings when I can.

Hearing the argument over and over again about people who say they can't afford a $30 per year membership; I find such claims astounding this day an age, where a typical doctor visit co-pay is $20, taking in a movie for 3 people is $30 (no candy or refreshments though, double it if one gets drinks and candy), a tank of gas is $30-$50 each fill up, a dinner for two at a restaurant is easily around $50 (if you're lucky, and no alcoholic drinks either), a visit to McDonalds for my family of four costs $22-$23 these days!  I took my pennies and loose change container to one of those machines at grocery stores that automatically counts the dumped in change (the machine charges a small percentage for this "lose change consolidation" process), and I had over $100 in small coins refunded as cash.  

Being unemployed recently for 17 months, I know first hand what it's like to carefully watch expenses, but my guess is that someone saying they can't afford $30 for a year membership doesn't want to afford a year membership.  The low cost for membership is a drop in the bucket; try ordering 25-35 packets of seed, or going to your local market and buying 25-35 packets of annuals and vegetable seed and see what it costs; double or triple or quadruple the annual cost of joining NARGS.

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

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

If NARGS was starting from scratch today I think we'd have some Chapters, but we'd be more careful about where we set them up and we'd be more specific about what each Chapter was responsible for, what they were going to be required to do to keep their Chapter status, what their benefits would be, and I am confident that we would require that every Chapter member first be a member of NARGS, and that they maintain that membership or their Chapter membership would lapse.

My Chapter, the Berkshire Chapter, has in its By Laws a requirement that all BNARGS members must first be a NARGS member. It is a By Law that hasn't been enforced for many years, and for us to start enforcing it now would create a real problem for the Chapter. And the wording does not require ongoing NARGS membership, just membership at the moment one joins the chapter. But that doesn't address the issue of 'why do we have Chapters?' Well, my guess is that we have them for more than historical reasons, and if we dissolved them we'd probably lose quite a few members. But more importantly, we'd lose the geographically centered locations where we have meetings, plant sales, lectures, etc. Without those activities, we'd lose a lot of our identity and eventually, our actual existence.

So again we return to the simple question of what to do about the fact that so many Chapter members won't join NARGS. Ron gave us one rather elegant suggestion, but I'd like more so I can present them as a package to the Board of Directors and see what happens at our meeting in Washington this March.

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

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

So again we return to the simple question of what to do about the fact that so many Chapter members won't join NARGS. Ron gave us one rather elegant suggestion, but I'd like more so I can present them as a package to the Board of Directors and see what happens at our meeting in Washington this March.

Peter, looking through this thread to find your reference, I'm wondering what previous suggestion by made by "Ron", I can't find said reference.

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

Booker
Booker's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-30

We experience many of the same problems here in the UK.I have been the Secretary (and was the founder way back in 1986) of the East Lancashire Group of the Alpine Garden Society for over twenty-five years and in that time we have seen attendances at local group meetings rise from 35 to 150 and back down to 40.  Our membership has obviously got older, passed away, moved away, lost the ability to drive at night or simply lapsed. We have always retained a core membership with a great interest in exhibiting plants, we have encouraged garden open days, photography workshops, practical demonstrations, nursery visits and even created an alpine garden at our meeting hall in Ramsbottom.  We have always made a point of welcoming new members and visitors as eagerly as possible.When we reached an attendance figure that literally filled the hall and made meetings difficult for members in wheelchairs, we decided to cease all advertising and reportage of meetings.  This proved a huge mistake and all efforts to recreate those heady days have proved fruitless.  During our twenty-five years of existence we have always emphasised to our members the privileges to be gained from membership of the main Society, but we have also realised that some people simply act as taxi drivers for their partners, visit occasionally when weather conditions allow, etc.Our biggest problem is attracting the younger gardener and we need to start earlier by advertising in schools, colleges and universities.  We are very fortunate in that we can book excellent speakers with experience and charisma, but these same lecturers should be on the television, on YouTube and on video to promote our wonderful hobby to people who have never been lucky enough to experience the beauty of our plants for themselves.  The alpine and rock gardening hierarchy should be getting together to produce these visual aids before our hobby becomes moribund.

Cliff Booker A.K.A. Ranunculus On the moors in Lancashire, U.K. Usually wet, often windy, sometimes cold ... and that's just me!

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

Sorry, Mark. RickR, not Ron.

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

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

My experience from running a local group of our AGS for over 20 years (and most Groups here are very small) is that the Group is like a microcosm of the parent Society - just a very few of us really keep it going. We do this because plants and the people we meet who share their experiences with us are just so completely fascinating. The Groups or the Chapters die when they lose these enthusing spirits, unless we are able to ignite the spark in new members. It is hard to believe that this fascination is not there in a new generation too (it would certainly be immensely sad if this were the case) and I suspect that we just have to go out and find them in any way we can think of. This is not something that most members want to think of or be bothered with, so it will just be the efforts of the few who see the importance of our societies who will force the pace. If this is the case then I see more communication between alpine societies as being of great value, with the prospect of really raising the profile of our way of gardening. I have written of this in the latest AGS Bulletin. As I write this I have seen the contribution from Cliff and agree very much with his comments, and am rather surprised that other figures in the AGS have not also joined in the debate. Individually we can enjoy our gardens and the benefits of the various societies, but there is nothing like discovering new people with that same excitement and that just takes personal effort. Just the four or five new faces who have joined our Group recently after opening our gardens for several years have somehow revitalised the Group, partly because of the very effort we have made to attract them. They are likely to be pretty keen gardeners and stay, perhaps tell friends, and so a virtuous circle begins. But this is from grass roots without a great deal of help from the parent society. And we may be an unusual Group.

My conclusions remain pretty much as they were when I started discussing this on the AGS website, and that is that propagating and selling plants is at the heart of any gardening society - new gardeners want to buy plants and make their own gardens, and perhaps make their own mistakes. As time passes the extraordinary wealth of plants that can be grown in different gardens, and the huge amount you can learn from others begins to become more and more important, but that is a personal journey.

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.  

externmed
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-03-01

These are tough times, and rock gardening is certainly a luxury, but I support efforts to maintain a vibrant society. As a sometimes poster to the Forum, I have always been treated with great respect and kindness and been given an abundance of useful information.  However, it does seem like there are just a very few people who use it regularly-- no one who attends my chapter?  Prospective and peripheral members should be able to find out what a great resource it is. 

My chapter has some fine lectures and a very good plant sale.  Unfortunately most of the presentations aren't actually about rock gardening.  Some bad decisions are made: a lecture about South African botanizing scheduled in the AM was switched at the last minute with a lecture about recycling junk in the garden.  At least 10 people left before, the now afternoon, presentation of South Africa.  Some of these people may have left the NARGS at the same time.  The seedling sale is grab and dash, and someone with beginner or intermediate level knowledge is going to be faced with trying to choose plants that he has no information about.

If I am going to acquire a plant, I should know that it is growable and that it's a keeper and any bad (weedy) aspects.  This is a gripe I have with the few remaining rock garden nurseries.  Many catalogs lack even the most basic information: moist, dry, or very dry.  I would encourage all Nurseries to attempt to address hardiness, soil type, moisture and temperature needs, difficulty and permanence.I'm not happy when something is sometimes listed as a zone 5 and sometimes a zone 8.  I'm really unhappy, too, when I buy something and then decide it's a waste of space.  (The Gallery is a good resource, when the nursery does not provide photos, as can be a photo internet search.)

Some have said, if you don't know the plants, you shouldn't be trying to grow them.  I would suggest that attitude kills membership.

This site does have some good articles about: the best plants for different regions; but I want to see the next article; "OK, Now How About the Really Interesting Plants that You Might Grow".

Maybe someday this site could have maps  with members able to mark for a species, the location where the tried it, and results: died, survived for a while, or grew well. Obviously there would be limitations about how many species could be done, but only a small percentage of plant geo-profiles would be of great interest, anyways.  The NARGS gallery is a great resource, but it would be so much more helpful to have a location with every photo.  There are so many resources out there--would be so nice if we could share, rather than each site having to do all it's own photos etc.--maybe the best we could do would be to enter links into the gallery?

We need more good regional rock gardening presentations at chapters. We need more people willing to open their gardens, maybe for just one day every couple of years. We need to keep the seed exchange and regional sales as vibrant and robust as possible.

What can the rest of us "99%" do. I noticed that the NARGS LINKS has several dead links.  That's never a plus.  I personally think links to nurseries should be separated by mail order and no mail order; and should be separate by country as appropriate.  The is touted as a Wiki, but it seems that does not extend to things like links.  I really hate dead links, I'd be willing to "weed" them, who do I ask ?, can I?, will someone give me sufficient instructions?

Otherwise, I will contribute to the gallery, maybe will be able to contribute more to the seed exchange and seedling sale (someday), and if I build a new garden and it works out, I'd definitely try to write it up.

Charles Swanson Massachusetts USA 

NE Massachusetts (New England) USA  zone 6 (5B to 6B)

gardens visited, photographs:  www.flickr.com/photos/wildmeadow

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

As a sometimes poster to the Forum, I have always been treated with great respect and kindness and been given an abundance of useful information.  However, it does seem like there are just a very few people who use it regularly-- no one who attends my chapter?

Charles, don't forget that I'm a member of your NARGS chapter :),  Jeremy Franceschi is also a New England Chapter member, and posts here occassionally. Jeremy has been very instrumental in the NARGS Wiki.  And Matt Mattus posts sometimes, but I know of his unbelievable job demands, perhaps crazier than mine; we all wish that Matt had more time to post here.  But I know what you mean, I too am surprised the majority of NEC NARGS members don't participate on NARGS Forum, some members rather stick with email-based Alpine-L instead.

Regarding your many other points and concerns, I think a place like the NARGS Forum does go a long ways towards fulfilling much of what you are concerned with.  If you're willing and anxious to volunteer in some fashion on the NARGS Wiki or web site, I'm sure your volunteerism would be welcomed.  So far as contacts, Peter George will surely know, you may want to send him a PM.

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

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