Why would anyone want to start a new gardening club! Membership is declining all around the country, clubs are not attracting younger members (and when I say young I mean under 60!) and entries at local shows and competitions are dwindling.
However, turn on the TV most nights and there is usually a gardening programme on. Go to Chelsea, Malvern, Tatton or Hampton Court and the bigger crowds each year would suggest that gardening is thriving. Look a bit closer though and it’s often more about ‘lifestyle’ where the garden is actually an instant ‘outdoor room’ with a barbeque on the patio, cushions on the rattan seating, a fire pit and mood lighting. A few carefully placed pots of totally unsuitable plants provide a summer of contentment only to disappear into mush at the first sign of frost!
Call me cynical, but this ‘fashionable’ sort of gardening preys on the vulnerable, the gullible and those wishing to impress rather than to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I have a barbeque on the patio and somewhere to sit but my plants are the star of the show; a huge variety of flowers, colour and scent in abundance, herbs, fruit and veg, lawns, hedges and trees. Yes, there is a bit of statuary and stuff I’ve bought and regretted including a chiminea which now lurks in a dark corner amongst the old compost bags and chicken wire! But give me traditional gardening every time; a packet of seeds, a begged cutting or a plant split and swapped with friends. And so it was that I found myself in conversation with like minded people who suggested we start a ‘proper’ gardening club for people like us!
An internet search quickly revealed more than 150 gardening clubs already in Gloucestershire alone so this was either a very bad idea or there is always room for one more. We decided it was the latter! As a past committee member of the Cheltenham Horticultural Society and know a bit about how clubs are run I was tasked to make a plan. I am also lucky enough to be a member of the Hardy Plant Society Western Counties Group which is thriving, well run and well attended with very good speakers and the wonderful Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers usually in attendance. It occurred to me that there was potential for a Cotswold Group of the Cottage Garden Society to be just as successful if only we could attract enough people and give them what they wanted. And there’s the rub. How do we do that?! After listing out all the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ it became clear just how tricky this was going to be!
It became clear to me that the crucial thing was going to be finding ways of attracting and keeping a younger audience, new members in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who like the principles of cottage gardening but need help and encouragement. A group which stays true to the objects of the Society but modernised and relevant to a new generation of tech savvy, health conscious gardeners who want to make the most of their little patch to grow flowers, eat their own fruit and veg and literally stay ‘grounded’. These people recognise the health benefits of gardening for themselves and their family, the outlet it provides for creativity and expression and the potential increase in value a well tended garden can bring when it’s time to move on.
It occurred to me that, without realising it, cottage gardening is often the style a lot of gardeners end up with in the normal course of events. An arch, a pond, beds and borders filled with plants acquired from well meaning family and friends, pots of herbs, a grow-bag with tomatoes or chillies, a mini-greenhouse and a small shed. What is that but cottage gardening? Only the pigs and chickens are missing! It may be on a modern urban estate but it is no less relevant. They may buy their plants from garden centres, not nurseries, and make a lot of expensive mistakes along the way but, sooner or later, and if they don’t become disheartened in the meantime, they could become the talented gardeners of tomorrow. These are the people gardening clubs need to capture, nurturing their fledgling interest and turning it into a passion.
Of course, it is essential for any group to be inclusive and cater for the needs of everyone who wants to join whatever their age and experience, and to provide all the ingredients for a contented and satisfied membership. It is certainly going to be challenging getting the right blend of old and modern, traditional and contemporary, but I believe it can be done. Indeed, it has to be be done otherwise there is no point. Without an annual injection of new and younger members, gardening clubs and societies will slowly decline and wither away.
After a lot of coffees in our local Italian, my friends and I decided that it should be a two-pronged attack. First we would contact the existing membership in North Gloucestershire and ask them to join us, and then use local advertising and social media to attract budding gardeners who want to learn the basics, improve their skills, fill gaps in their knowledge or just join a bunch of plant mad people, allotmenteers, beekeepers, smallholders and others keen to share their knowledge and skill before it gets lost.
Stay tuned, I will let you know what happens next!