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

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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
 

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

It is interesting that this same discussion on the SRGC website has generated a lot of response. A number of people, mostly younger members, have commented that they get most interest from the Forum and people they 'meet' there, and are not so interested in the traditional groups. Maybe as time goes on they will come together and make their own groups. I hope so because this way you meet some of the most remarkable people in the gardening world, who come as lecturers, and if you are lucky actually belong to the groups you are in, and there is nothing like that direct contact (Rick has made a similar comment on SRGC about sharing the history of the Chapter with new and younger members). Even more important is that such people take on some of the running of the groups, and throw in new ideas which give us the chance for a bit of arguement! Our particular Group has only some 40-50 members, but has been going for over 40 years, and was started by several unknown (!!) gardeners such as Jack Elliott and Rear Admiral Furse. You sort of feel that you don't want to give up on it! - but such characters are few and far between! They are also almost always people who started gardening young.

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.
 

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

Hi Tim, I have seen and read with interest the similar topic that you started on SRGC "The Future of Specialist Plant Societies":
http://www.srgc.org.uk/forum/index.php?topic=8439.0

I am a transcontinental forumist, as you are ;)

Meanwhile, some of the Facebook "groups" that I have joined or was invited to join, have rip-roaring activity, can barely keep up.  Even so, on Facebook I've been cross-posting pertinent forum-links when appropriate, maybe to get some to "come on over" to the forum venue.  Seems lots of people really gravitate towards the Facebook (FB) phenomenon; I'm of the opinion these sorts of diversions are just that, major distractions from having a more meaningful collective build of plant knowledgebase in a centralized forum.  In some ways, Facebook is like Ranunculaceae seed, ephemeral and short-lived, not a way to build a strong knowledgebase.  Yup, FB can be sort of fun and with instant gratification, but it's all so fleeting and discombobulated.  Just try to go back to something posted on Facebook a year ago, forget about it.  Regardless of its merits, or lack of merits, FB is a force to be reckoned with...dang!

And then there is still activity on the Listservs, sometimes in great surges.  I must admit, I do derive some amusement with the frequent yet fruitlessly repeated cries of "please don't reply with the entire email digest included", but to no avail, as those sorts of problems are simply intrinsic with email-based systems and will never go away, but of no concern whatsoever in the forum-style venues.  Listserv participants struggle, often complain, and regularly miscommunicate in those venues, spending much time trying to verbally describe a plant or situation (because photos are not allowed in the email-based system), whereas such concerns, and posting photos (each picture is worth a 1000 words, or so it is said ;)) on a forum venue is just an easy and basic thing to do.  I continue to scratch my head on the almost bilbical allegiance to textual-only listserv based mail forums and the negative projection about how forums-based venues are terrible. 

I do understand however, that many people still do not have access to high-speed internet connections, depending on where they are, in which case an email-based listserv can make perfect sense. I'm afraid some defenders of email-only based listservs do have higher speed connection possibilities, and may indeed be categoriozed as "luddites" (will probably get flack for that suggestion).

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

Allison
Allison's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-04-08

McDonough wrote:

I do understand however, that many people still do not have access to high-speed internet connections, depending on where they are, in which case an email-based listserv can make perfect sense. I'm afraid some defenders of email-only based listservs do have higher speed connection possibilities, and may indeed be categoriozed as "luddites" (will probably get flack for that suggestion).

I am not a luddite by any means, although I find it hard to find the time to learn all the new techniques (still not good at 'face-booking'), but I will repeat something I've said before and that I think you might be discounting too much. Listserv discussions are conversations. Facebook can be, too. And conversations are a different thing from a scientific discussion. The very fact that a conversation is ephemeral is part of its appeal. If I say something dull or not too smart, it is lost in the mist.... not like a forum where it will remain to embarrass me forever. In a conversation I learn from all the talkers, not just the one who takes the time to compose a well-reasoned argument. A listserv is like a chat with friends, while a forum is listening to the experts and possibly occasionally chiming in if you are brave enough.

The other thing I don't think you should discount is that conversations, even if not saved in any archives, still get 'saved' in the minds of those involved. Maybe not the whole discussion, but the bits that suit the listener. What I learn is not lost, at least not to me.

Maybe a forum could include a conversation thread, with nothing saved except by the reader, in his own space, like a listserv. I think the forum is great, but I miss the casual nature of the listserv.

Gardening on a wooded rocky ridge in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. Cold winters (-30C) and hot, humid summers. Nuts about native plants, ferns, pottery, my family, and Border Collies.

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

Don't forget Lis, here on the forum you have full edit rights to your own messages, and can modify or edit them at will.  So, if one writes something that is later felt to be embarrassing, go back and edit accordingly.  On the email-based systems, you can't take back what was sent out, typos and all. 

There is also the risk on email-based listservs, of sending what you think is a private message to a listserv member, when in fact it was sent mistakingly to the entire maillist... that happens all the time on a couple listservs that I'm a member of.  That sort of mistake is an easy one to make, and has potential to be very embarrassing, and once done, there is no way to fix it.  Listserv messages are indeed saved and go into a searchable archive, so they are not ephemeral like Facebook conversations.

Also, feel free to start a topic under the "Other" board (in the Miscellaneous section, at the bottom of the list of boards on NARGS), or the "General" board, to start a conversation.  There are topics such as the popular one on "Weather", that is not building any great knowledgebase of information, it is simply something gardeners like to chat about, myself included, the weather.  On the SRGC Forum they have some "social" types of topics, for example, one on Puzzles (often plant related, but not necessarily so), and one called "Yes, I'm so happy..." and an opposite one "Moan Moan Moan" for complaining about things, one on "artsy photographs", I think you get the idea.  On SRGC these are perfectly fine (often very popular) topics that the community of rock gardeners and plant lovers can contribute to... all in one place.  I'm sure Maggi can offer up a better description that I can about how the idea of "community" works on SRGC Forum.

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

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

Everyone needs to do what is comfortable for them.  In fact the reasons why Lis likes listservs tend to be the very reasons why I don't!  We are all different, and that's a good thing.

Lis wrote:

In a conversation [listserv] I learn from all the talkers, not just the one who takes the time to compose a well-reasoned argument.

A listserv is like a chat with friends, while a forum is listening to the experts and possibly occasionally chiming in if you are brave enough.

What I learn is not lost, at least not to me.

The casual conversation more prevalent on listservs is exactly that - casual.  Words are often vague or used in a sense not universally understood among the members.  Answers to questions posted are never complete.  And in fact, I need more courage to post on Alpine-L then here on the NARGS forum or the SRGC (where I still feel very new).  

Every time I have posted a serious question on Alpine-L, I get half answers that leave more questions unanswered.  Usually those ensuing questions include: what did that cryptic "answer" really mean?  For me, the problem with virtual casual conversation, as oppose to real conversation, is that it tends to be so laissez-faire.  Answers tend to be short and off-the-cuff, admittedly, a style that many people like, just not me.

A perfect example was my recent questions posed on allelopathy, which you, Lis, so graciously came to my rescue.  My "why" questions (plural), were answered with a single word ("no"). Thank goodness for you, Lis.  For me, the courage needed to post on Alpine-L is for the continual reintroduction of the same question, straining to pull any real and relevant answers out of the membership.  Sadly, I have found that the only way to do that is to communicate individually with members, which leaves all that good information out of the listserv loop.

I don't have a mind like a steel trap.  I do use the seach functions, and I find forums far easier to search than a listserv, not having to wade through enormous amounts of unimportant chatter.

As said, both forums and listservs have their uses, and everyone needs to choose for themselves.  Neither is necessarily better.
---------------------------------------------------------
I do want to reiterate, however, that no one should feel intimidated from posting on this Forum, be they expert or brand new.  As a reminder, an easy way to encourage the new gardeners is to post common names along with the botanical name.

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

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