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AGS Director's Diary: Thoughts on the development of the AGS

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 22 July 2014, 13:00. Go to bottom of this page.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 January 2012, 17:16top / bottom of page

Those AGS members who are also members of the NARGS will have seen in the latest Quarterly an open letter from the President Peter George strongly questioning how that organisation can attract new and younger members. This is despite the presence of very many skilled and knowledgeable gardeners within the NARGS, and to me anyway an impressive website and stimulating Forum. The parallels with the AGS are obvious, even though the two Societies are different in many ways. I know that the SRGC has also been addressing the problem. Having already discussed this at length elsewhere on the website, the one simple point I would like to make, from personal experience, is that since closing the nursery some years ago (mainly for health reasons), there has been virtually no interest in our garden except when specifically opened for the NGS. The interest that gardeners have is in buying plants! The same, in a different sense, must be true of the AGS. The Shows, absolutely wonderful that they are, are substantially for the interest of present members, or at least they are in the way they are expressed to gardeners at the moment. Far more involvement of members in promoting the Society seems necessary, and more consultation on how this can come about. It seems less than fair that this should devolve upon relatively few members, for one thing because this allows no momentum to build up, and secondly because new ideas are unlikely to emerge without positive feedback. Feedback on the website is very limited and one does wonder how it is ever likely to really attract many new gardeners in the absence of significant use by present members?

(I have entered this in this thread not specifically for the attention of the Director, but more generally for the AGS Committee, and because it allows a direct communication from the membership which has hitherto not been so easy).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 12 January 2012, 22:30top / bottom of page

Just would like to point out that this debate is taking place on the other side of the Atlantic!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 20 January 2012, 10:20top / bottom of page

I would strongly urge any members who are keen to find ways of attracting new members to the AGS to follow the discussion on the NARGS site above. The fact that the same debate is not occurring openly on the AGS site is very surprising considering our relatively large and diverse membership, and emphasises the lack of inclusivity in the way the website is used.

Contribution from Eric Marsh 20 January 2012, 21:38top / bottom of page

One reason why there is so little discussion on this site of anything is because it is so difficult to use compared to other Gardening sites. It is like the main Society, hard to penetrate!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 21 January 2012, 14:39top / bottom of page

You rather hit the nail on the head Eric! I wish a few others would too, then things may begin to happen. Many people exhibit plants. I wouldn't have it any other way, and probably it is they who really define the Society. But how many people garden with alpines? Why don't we share this in the same way? Why is the Society unable to put this across to others? What about nurserymen who are the real inspiration for many of us? As nurseries close inevitably fewer people will consider growing alpines.

The key always is having success in what you do and gaining appreciation from your peers. I have grown alpines for very many years, quite well, but it is only recently on developing a sand bed that the plants are really giving their all. This is an easy thing to make in a garden and many more gardeners could do it, and finding how enjoyable this is many more might also consider joining the AGS, because that way you also learn so much about the plants as well as growing them. Perfection is not the aim, it is movement (but then that is just my personal viewpoint. If I exhibited plants no doubt I would think differently). One always thinks of a Society as having a steady input of new members which keep it much as it has always been. Over its lifetime the membership of the AGS has fluctuated quite considerably, but what is not so clear is all the effort put in the background to maintain the bouyancy of the Society-and it does seem a particular time to work on that again.

Contribution from Eric Marsh 27 January 2012, 21:02top / bottom of page

It shows the condition of this Society or maybe just this web site that there has been so little response made to Tim's postings.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 29 January 2012, 12:41top / bottom of page

I started a discussion just 3 days ago on the SRGC forum and there have been to date over 80 replies and 600 views! See:

This doesn't say any conclusions have been drawn, or that any answers are any easier to put into practice, but it does show something of note, that the ability to interact on a website is of immense value in however it works, and in the most simplistic terms it only works if people talk to each other! The AGS probably can never emulate the SRGC forum, but it could concentrate much more on the diaries and exchanging cultural information which would be of great benefit to potential new members who would like to see ongoing projects. Putting such diaries together is also very stimulating and valuable for members; certainly it has focussed my thoughts , and so it works both ways.

I hesitate to say it, just as I did starting the discussion on SRGC, but for the AGS it seems to me quite a radical rethink of the website could be of value with a strong sense of its educational role for potential new members looking in and not so much of a concentration on judgemental aspects. Have a look at the discussion on SRGC and see what you think...

Contribution from David Nicholson 29 January 2012, 20:23top / bottom of page

Tim, I thoroughly agree with all you have said. The trouble is some of us have been saying similar things for some time without any recognition being given to what we have said and the reasons why we have been saying it. Indeed I'm far from sure that any Member of Committee or paid Officer of the Society actually reads what we write or understands our reasons for writing it. It seems very sad to me that many of the "foot soldiers" who, at the end of the day pay their subscriptions and can see that The Society needs to change in very many ways whilst the "Generals" feign blindness. As we've said on "t'other side" the society that thinks about the need for change and sets about implementing it will prosper whilst the society that sticks it's head (and other parts of it's anatomy too!) in the sand will fade away through lack of sustenance. I don't particularly want to be in the position to say "Well' I told you didn't I" and I suspect neither do others who have spleen vented on this topic but we probably will have no choice. I've really got to the stage where I'm putting my continued membership of the society to some thought.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 01 February 2012, 09:34top / bottom of page

It's a sad truth that I have had similar thoughts myself at times, though have always come back to my senses when I realise how much I have always got out of the Society. But it is difficult to hold such ambivalent views and it says that something is not going as it should. I think it does imply a lack of communication. In the past, before the so recent emergence of the web, this would have occurred between much fewer people and at much less speed - in many ways it would have been much less democratic, especially in such a prestigous Society like the AGS which is founded on excellence. Now with the web there is actually the chance to spread knowledge of plants and our more thoughful forms of gardening to far more people. I think the AGS is finding it difficult to come to terms with this, and that is perfectly understandable, but does need to be worked through.

Contribution from Eric Marsh 01 February 2012, 12:05top / bottom of page

David has just about said what I have been feeling for a while. I did mention the need for a really good Web presence for the Society to a Committee member, who agreed,but could make no suggestions as to how it could be achieved under the present leadership.

The difficulty I have is that I feel diffident about criticising the people who give up so much of their time to the Society when I am unable to do so myself. And, in any case, at 66 I think I am getting a bit long in the tooth to do it.

The writing is on the Wall, Change or Die, but is anyone reading it? I fear not.

Contribution from Eric Marsh 05 February 2012, 12:49top / bottom of page

Engendered a lot of discussion and interest on here.........not!

Contribution from David Nicholson 05 February 2012, 15:03top / bottom of page

Not surprised are you Eric?

Contribution from Tim Ingram 05 February 2012, 19:13top / bottom of page

The greatest shame to me is that in a country of such remarkable history of gardening and plantsmanship, we are unable to share this properly with new people. It is quite a deep failing and one that probably many of us in the Society share, because I simply don't believe it can be ascribed simply to social and demographic change. If you think something is worthwhile you go all out to convince others of it. In a metaphorical sense, and actually, the future has to be grasped with both hands.

Contribution from Cliff Booker 05 February 2012, 19:31top / bottom of page

Oh that there was some form of counter on this site so that we could ascertain how many of the seven THOUSAND plus members actually a) visit the site, b) contribute and c) and, most importantly perhaps, revisit?

It appears to be the same clutch of individuals who have their very welcome and appreciated say, but interaction requires response, thrives on controversy and demands time and commitment. Some of us may be losing patience in the wait for any or all of the three.

Greetings Tim, David, Eric and the other ghosthunters!!

Contribution from Eric Marsh 05 February 2012, 21:20top / bottom of page

Hi Cliff.

Makes one want to shout "IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?"

Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 February 2012, 15:05top / bottom of page

I think Alexandre Dumas had it right in 'The Three Musketeers' -

'All for One, and One for All!'

(perhaps overly dramatic for the Alpine Garden Society, but a good sort of sentiment to have... and one which I think has recently been well expressed in the Czech Republic as different Alpine Clubs have come together).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 February 2012, 19:09top / bottom of page
An advance motion for the 2012 AGM

I would like to submit an advance item to be discussed at the AGM in the autumn, viz:


Raising this now may facilitate advance consideration by those with professional knowledge of designing and running websites, and for those of us who would like to very much contribute to a much more thriving site.

Contribution from David Nicholson 09 February 2012, 16:26top / bottom of page


Contribution from Martin Rogerson 09 February 2012, 17:07top / bottom of page

I think it is time you both volunteered for the AGS Committee, much easier to drive change from within. A plea was made for volunteers at the last AGM.

Said with a mixture of seriousness, tongue in cheek and copious use of large wooden spoon.

You do both appear passionate about these issues so take action!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 February 2012, 17:57top / bottom of page

Hello Martin - Bob Wallis has said much the same to me. The problem is one has to build a following and I come from a different place from most members. I had thought the website might develop the sort of exchange that has occurred on the SRGC site, but this has not really happened, and it can leave you with the sense of always fighting an uphill battle. I am strongly involved in doing things in Kent (viz: promoting both our gardening and the Kent Shows), and see these as just small scale versions of what the Society in general needs to do. But we also run a large garden and are restarting our nursery so my time is quite divided. With the ability to communicate so easily on the internet though, I would think that far more input from members could occur and be very beneficial.

Contribution from Cliff Booker 09 February 2012, 20:04top / bottom of page

A friend has asked me where I obtained the figure of seven thousand current AGS members that I quoted in a recent message (see above) and I had to admit that this 'pure guess' was an educated amalgam of historical fact and potential decrease.

Could someone in authority please put me right as to accurate figures, as it would be very interesting to review recent trends?

Contribution from Eric Marsh 10 February 2012, 13:29top / bottom of page

I would love to be able to become a Committee member, but at the age of 66 and suffering from an illness which would make attendance at meetings almost impossible I don't think it is possible.

I would like to second Tim's proposed motion though.

Contribution from David Nicholson 10 February 2012, 20:26top / bottom of page

Valid point Martin. But for there to be change there has to be first a general feeling that change is necessary. That general feeling has been expressed by a small number of like thinking individuals scattered throughout a number of these pages but, is that enough? I don't think so and certainly membership of any AGS Committee would, in my view, be an up-hill struggle and not one in which I would welcome participation. There have been sufficient comments and discontent about a range of issues aired on these pages and a number of potential solutions have been mooted without one single comment that I can remember from the Society hierarchy to say either, "You've got a point there, we'll look at it" or "You're talking a lot of rot for these reasons". Until there is a recognition expressed that if this Society doesn't change, and change quickly, it will die then individual carping will continue as a self fulfilling exercise if only to be able to say at some time in the near future "Well, I told you so" after Nero's fiddle squeaked it's last.

Contribution from Eric Marsh 11 February 2012, 15:34top / bottom of page

[quote]without one single comment that I can remember from the Society hierarchy to say either, "You've got a point there, we'll look at it" or "You're talking a lot of rot for these reasons". Until there is a recognition expressed that if this Society doesn't change, and change quickly, it will die then individual carping will continue as a self fulfilling exercise if only to be able to say at some time in the near future "Well, I told you so" after Nero's fiddle squeaked it's last. [/quote]

Does seem odd that we have not had any feedback from anyone, does it not?

Personally I would hate to be in a "I told you so" situation.

I wonder if it is the almost impenetrable nature of this Website which stops people from joining in and expressing their concerns, or indeed lack of them?

I also notice that identification of Committee members at Shows is not that easy. That makes commenting to them for someone who is not 'in the know' so to speak, rather difficult.

Contribution from Rick Lambert 13 February 2012, 23:22top / bottom of page

Oh well here goes!

There are a number of things wrong with the AGS and also a number of things right with it.

Wrong things. No real focus on Alpine plants, mostly concerned with small plants, herbaceous and hardy plants. Heaven forbid if we should become swamped with Cactus. Ok, some of the cactus are as alpine as any, but think about it folks - there is a very good society that specialises in Cactus. Why bring them to our shows.

Right things. Seed exchange, Magazines, Library, Pershore garden, book sales, Shows, Local groups.

More good than bad, but the bad things are serious. Until they are addressed you can forget about recruitment.

I am hoping that the cut down committee will become more active and less passive.

Unfortunately I can't underline or make BOLD some of the above comments!

Rick Lambert

Contribution from Susan Read 14 February 2012, 10:55top / bottom of page

Hi Rick

I think the Bulletin alone is worth the subscription.

The web site is far easier to use than others.

Many people enjoy AGS tours and find them good value.

On the minus side getting to local group meetings is not so easy, distances can be long and winter evening travel is full of problems.

Contribution from Judy Rhymes 14 February 2012, 21:26top / bottom of page
A 'prickly' response sticking up for cacti!!

I was interested to read Rick?s comments about cactus, and not wanting them to swamp the show benches, as there is a specialist society for them. There are specialist societies for cyclamen and saxifrage too - but I don?t seem to hear folk at AGS shows complaining about these plants appearing on the show benches!

In June 2010, Paul Cumbleton offered the following comments regarding cacti:

?Many cacti are genuinely alpine, growing at elevations of up to 11,000 feet (3350 m) in the mountains of north America and even higher ? up to 15,000 feet (4500 m) in the Andes of South America. So having them in a bed for alpines is not as out of place as at first may seem. Recognition of the alpine status of many cacti species is at last being demonstrated by their increasingly frequent appearance on the alpine show benches where some have even been winning prizes. Personally I think this is a very welcome development ? even if the judges are a little unsure about how to rate them!?

As I see it, an AGS show is just a Flower Show. Most specialist plant societies hold shows annually, in the season when the plants are usually at their best. As the term ?alpines? seems to encompass a huge variety of plants, the AGS is fortunate to be able to hold a number of shows throughout the year, showcasing all manner of plants, so why not let the much maligned cactus claim its rightful place, alongside cyclamen, saxifrage, crocus, tulips, snowdrops etc, etc.?

Contribution from Martin Rogerson 15 February 2012, 08:36top / bottom of page

I'm with Judy on this one. The key to me is 1)does it grow in an Alpine or Arctic-Alpine habitat, true of a fairly large number of Cacti. 2) Is it reasonably dwarf and hence suited to a rock garden or Alpine House, similarly true.

Of course many plants seen on the showbench do not satisfy no. 1! Should we dismiss them? I think not as they satisfy no. 2.

What's suitable and what's not is a constant source of debate which is good. If we didn't have these differences of opinion at shows what would we talk about all day?

The key is to keep debating it so that the check and balance is maintained while embracing as wide a range of plants as possible (see other threads on how to atteact and keep members).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 February 2012, 00:09top / bottom of page

I've just been reading back through this thread and it has struck me that actually it is quite difficult to stimulate change from within because few of us like to be deflected from our particular path. This is why being able to debate things on a forum like this is so useful because it allows a more 'no holds barred' discussion from which valuable comments can be distilled. I certainly think this is the case on the SRGC forum and I am sure could develop more here too. Any change has to be perceived to be of worth across the Society and the fairest way of allowing this to happen is via something like the forum, or with good open debate at the AGM.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 10 June 2012, 18:48top / bottom of page

I have mentioned earlier on how I think that the AGS website should be reviewed, and given some reasons. But it may be more clear described from my own perspective, which may or may not chime with others. I have found over time contributing and conversing with other gardeners on the SRGC and NARGS Forums that I have gained immensely from the experiences of others, specifically because it is very encouraging. I am sure that the same thing occurs between those who exhibit plants at the AGS Shows in a more direct way. But the point I have always made is that there are those of us who primarily garden with alpines and the relatively small number of such people in a geographical area means that there are less opportunities to forge the sort of links that can occur on the Forums. It is obvious that younger gardeners are much more likely to meet up on the web, just from the clear difficulties there are in Groups trying to attract new members. And those that do have access to some wonderful and knowledgeable gardeners, who themselves must gain great stimulation from a younger generation. Hence the central role that the AGS website - and I would say the Discussion section - is likely to have in the future, and indeed may direct the way the Society develops. As before I am unlikely to get immediate support for such views (and wouldn't expect it), but it does seem wise to have them expressed. There are other ways of advertising, such as at Garden Shows and through our Gardens both of which we are doing in Kent, but the real need is to show other gardeners why alpines mean so much to us, and that comes through in open discussions on the Forums, even when they are sometimes difficult. It also leads to new ideas. I could say I rest my case, but I am tenacious if nothing else.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 14 July 2012, 20:54top / bottom of page
Thoughts from a new member

I am a new member and have read this thread with interest as it is exactly the same discussions I heard at the CGS. I dont know what you define as young but at 46 I often feel that I am a young member. I also have heard a lot of talk in various societies about wanting to attract new & younger members but a resistence to doing anything different. To be honest I left the CGS as I came to the conclusion that they were only paying lip service to idea of updating and that the core of the society had been the same for 25 yrs and considered it their club.

I dont know the history of the AGS but hope it isnt the same. My impressions from my month of membership are:

The website is far better than the CGS & HPS

The forum looks good but its sad there isnt more contributions

I went to my first show today, very keen. I wasnt asked on entry if I was a member. There was no attempt to interest me in the society. No one made an attempt to engage with me although I assume many people know most people who were there. The only way I learnt anything was talking to a nurserywoman. I loved the nurseries, found the show fascinating and would love to have a go at exhibiting next year but would also like advice, support, information etc - there was none.

I plan to go to my local group meeting in September and wonder if again I will be ignored.

You are right that 'younger' people gain most of their information these days via the web. I am a garden blogger and have an extensive network of contacts in this area and on twitter. In fact it was a twitter friend who suggested the society to me for the quality of its bulletin and seed list.

I love the bulletin and the easy leaflets have been great, I have already learnt so much and I thought I was quite knowledgeable. However, I want information about alpine houses, crevice gardening etc etc.

Those are just my initial thoughts but thought you might be interested in the views of a new youngish member

Contribution from NORMAN JOBSON 15 July 2012, 08:59top / bottom of page

Hi Helen, it's nice to see that there is an enthusiastic new member of the AGS. What show did you attend, as we have always been asked if we are members on the door. I personally have found that there are a lot of helpful people out there, but it's difficult just to approach someone. Are there any specific type of plants that you wish to grow, as you mention an alpine house? I concentrate on dionysias and other cushion plants, with a few petiolaris primulas thrown in, and love hybridising my own. I'm no expert, but am willing to help if you want me to try.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 15 July 2012, 11:18top / bottom of page

Hi Norman

It was the Tewkesbury show and as you say it is hard to just walk up to someone and introduce yourself. The onus should be on society members to welcome new people and offer to show them round & introduce them.

I was taken with the cushion plants but as I dont have an alpine house the nursery woman I spoke to advise against them. Instead I bought some saxifraga. I have a particular weakness for primulas and a growing collection so that is my first love but am keen to explore other plants.

I was thinking yesterday after I left my comment on this thread that maybe the society should offer to provide mentors to those who want to learn more whether its in their own garden or exhibiting. This could easily be done electronically - just a thought

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 July 2012, 20:28top / bottom of page

Helen, how nice to hear your comments on the Forum. I am some 10 years older than you but you could say still quite young by AGS standards. On the other hand I have been a member since 1976! The AGS is a tremendous Society but you are right to point out that it doesn't do as much as it should to welcome new members to the Shows and provide more guidance. My wife and I have been discouraged by the welcome to Shows on occasion and it can give the impression of the Shows being like a private party even though I am sure there is no intention to do this. If you look back through what I have written on the Forum you will see that my opinion is that the exhibiting of plants, so very wonderful that it is and highly fulfilling for many members, can tend to predominate over our gardening with alpines. This latter has always been my real love, and the opportunities it provides to propagate and collect seed from many plants. I may be wrong but I suspect gardening with alpines is what will appeal most to many new and younger members, plus as you say the wonderful alpine nurseries. It is great that a little more debate may be beginning through the Society, and especially that it can occur between someone like me who has been a member for 36 years and you who have just joined.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 17 July 2012, 07:36top / bottom of page

Hi Tim

My friends would describe me as a seedaholic. Having gardened seriously for about 6 yrs I find that I am constantly looking for new challenges and plants. However my garden isnt that large so growing lots of herbacous perennials is becoming problematic. It has been suggested that I sell them and this is a pipe dream for when I retire recognising that making a living out of plants is challenging. I also work long hours so getting up at the crack of dawn to set up a stall isnt an option. As I have said a virtual friend suggested AGS for its seed distribution scheme but the more I have read in the bulletins I have read online and in paper the more my curiosity has grown. I realised at the show on Saturday that there is a whole range of plants I know nothing about and, a plus for me, many of them are quite small so ideal for my garden.

However I also discovered that, as with many plants, some are more difficult than others to grow but this was only through a chance conversation with a nursery woman and it would be good to have somewhere to go where you could ask about growing x or y and get an honest and frank view and advice. I am not convinced, however good the easy leaflets are, that the Society provides this yet though it should be possible through the forum

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 July 2012, 08:51top / bottom of page

Helen - Ian Young on Scottish Rock has said that plants grow themselves, so what you really do as a gardener is 'tune' in to what they need. They can be difficult until you find how to grow them, and then they become easy (a little simplistic I know, but you probably get what I mean). Growing them to the standard you see at the Shows is a different thing to growing them in the garden, and just enjoying them in their natural environment. The great thing I have found with the Forums is that you can share experiences with gardeners as far away as Moscow or New Zealand or America which immediately correspond with your own experiences and amplify them. This is the huge strength of a thriving Forum between like minded gardeners and it opens the Society up and introduces a variety of outlooks that can only be beneficial in the long term.

Although it is possible to put a lot of ongoing information and details on the Forum (and I have done it myself), it is difficult to maintain this without others joining in and sharing experiences too. Just describing any project you have in the garden as you work on it is great fun - the sand bed I made was the simplest thing imaginable in many ways but has grown many plants better than any way I have found before. Now I want to try tufa and crevice beds and I am excited by gardeners in America and Europe who do this so well. The strongest motivation of all is to propagate and distribute plants, and finding ways to grow them well is essential in this. If you have a good specialist nursery near to you I would suggest you go and learn from a grower like this first (because they will also probably be keen gardeners if they have the time), and then if you want to grow plants in pots and exhibit them, move on to the Shows and local Group members who love doing this.

Contribution from Martin Rogerson 17 July 2012, 09:21top / bottom of page

Helen, I have much sympathy with your plight. Not easy to remedy though. Like any social group it takes time to integrate, get your face known and strike up acquaintances.

Usually at shows the door is manned by local volunteers who have no idea whether you are a new member or one of many years standing. Even at shows I have attended for years I often have to show my card to get back in free during the day.

Once in the hall none of us know if a face we don't recognise is a local group member of long standing we don't know, an ace grower we just haven't met, an exhibitors wife/husband, a member of the public, etc, etc

It was unfortunate that on Saturday there was no AGS stand selling books, etc. This would normally be your first port of call to ask for help and advice. The folk on the stand may be staff, committee members or local volunteers but they'll probably know who to suggest you go and speak to i fthey can't answer your questions.

As you've already discovered one of the best sources of information are the nursery men and women. You will always get good, honest advice there. It may be their business but they all love their plants and won't try to knowingly sell you stuff you have no hope of growing.

The next trick is to look for anyone in the hall wearing a badge that says Judge, Steward or Exhibitor. Walk up to them and ask, politely!, if they can help answer your questions or point you at someone who can. They will be only too pleased to help.

Contribution from Val Lee 20 July 2012, 14:46top / bottom of page

Hello Helen and welcome to the AGS. What an opportunity we both missed last Saturday at the Summer Show Mid West @ Tewksbury, I was there all day and would have really enjoyed to make contact with you and welcome you to the Society. It was an ideal time to introduce you to some of your local members and for you to chat with exhibitors about the plants you wish to grow. Martin has already made the point that we have no way at the moment of knowing you are a new member and this is something we should address. Have you any ideas? I can assure you that exhibitors are friendly and helpful and like nothing better than to talk about their plants and how they grow them, so please make contact at future shows and you will soon be chatting happily over a 'cuppa' with many new friends. Exhibiting is not nearly so daunting as you might imagine. Do bring along a plant or two to one of the Shows, I know that the Show Secretary will be delighted to help you.

I am sure you will be warmly welcomed at your local group, but I doubt they will be meeting before September as most groups take a break for holidays and garden visits in August. If you let me know which group you intend to join I will see if they have any local garden visits or other events planned and ask them to get in touch.

Meanwhile, enjoy your membership, keep in touch, use the On Line Discussion and please come up and say Hi - I should be at all the Autumn Shows and I usually wear a name badge, if you do the same we may not miss the next opportunity to have a chat.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 22 July 2012, 18:10top / bottom of page

Hi Val

I can see what you and Martin are saying that it is hard for you to identify new members at shows. I think the person on the welcome desk could be a little more pro-active asking a few simple questions. I wasnt even asked if I was a member but that would be a start plus have you been to a show before? etc.

Aside from the fact that it isnt always easy to just walk up to a group of strangers and introduce yourself, I also was unable to clearly identify who was a AGS member or exhibitor. Maybe clearer badges? Maybe there needs to be a obvious AGS area. I didnt realise at first that the AGS plant stand was exactly that, I thought it was a nursery although I am more than happy to admit that I may not have been very observant particularly as I was in a completely new environment.

I did however overhear a conversation about it being a pity that no new people were attending shows - part of me wanted to interrupt and say "Well here I am" but unfortunately I didnt have the courage. I have done similar at other groups and have often had a quite negative response and made to feel like I have intruded so it is difficult for both new people and members.

Maybe if there was an AGS area which was manned with information about membership but also clearly signed to say 'We can answer your questions' or something similar then there would be an information point for new members and members of the public who might be interested in joining.

As I have said I appreciate it is difficult but having manned show stands for a number of groups I know that people are reluctant to ask for information and you have to go to them, asking if you an help etc.

Anyway, those were just my initial impressions as a new member I dont mean to come across as critical I just thought it might help the debate. I am planning to try and get to the Malvern & Cotswold meetings and have put the dates of their meetings in my diary.

Many thanks for your friendly response.


Contribution from Tim Ingram 22 July 2012, 20:29top / bottom of page

Helen - there have been a number of Shows with a special AGS stand as you describe. At Kent I have tried to make up a display, changing each year, with information about the local Groups, gardens and talks, photographs, old Bulletins and a small display of plants and/or flower arrangements. Then there is something immediately at the entrance for newcomers to see, and if several people are inviting people in, newcomers can be welcomed (as well as 'oldcomers'!). I think many of us are a little shy and hide behind our plants; I used to be able to do this as a nurseryman (!). But having something quite specific to the area and Show in question makes it easier for members to introduce their own gardens and Groups (and plants). I like the idea of slightly 'devolved' Shows which have their own 'feel' - many probably have this anyway - but the more local members who can get involved the better, and the more that can be going on to interest newcomers. It is really valuable, like Val says, to get feedback from visitors, but slightly more difficult to actually change things! Our Group in Kent has been trying to do this in a small way by holding a Garden Safari, where it is easier in many ways to welcome visitors and talk about the plants, and there must be many wonderful and varied alpine gardens amongst AGS members around the country which are not often seen.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 22 July 2012, 20:50top / bottom of page

Hi Tim - as a proficient gardener but a newbie to alpines I very quickly discovered at the show many plants I had never heard of. I wonder if, like many things, the closer you are to something the more one assumes everyone knows about it. I am pretty certain that many visitors or new members wouldnt have heard of many of the plants. I also had a fascinating discussion with a nurserywoman about crevice gardening which was quite inspiring so there would be lots of information that could easily put into a simple display and help people like me who feel very out of their depth - although in an exciting way

Contribution from june saddington 11 August 2012, 17:33top / bottom of page

I hope this is OK, i've been looking for an appropriate thread to say "hello I'm new".

I cannot find anything specific so I i've squeezed my thread on here following on from Helen's posts.

I've been a member of the AGS for a few months now and I've been reading all the wonderful Members Diaries, which i've made many notes on cultivation from.

I'm looking forward to making my first visit to my local group when their autumn programme starts again in September.

And I'm looking forward to visiting the Autumn Show in Loughborough in October for a few plants and help on keeping them happy.

So I just wanted to say hello everybody and I look forward to using this excellent site. :-)

Contribution from Martin Rogerson 12 August 2012, 22:47top / bottom of page

Welcome, please say hello at Loughborough. Just look out for the grumpy Scotsman with a beard!

Contribution from Chris McGregor 15 August 2012, 10:34top / bottom of page

I just wanted to reinforce what Martin said - about coming along to the shows and saying hello. I shall be at Loughborough on the AGS book stand in the morning (but in a committee meeting in the agternoon). Do say 'hello' and stop for a chat. I shall certainly see Helen at the Cotswold and Malvern Group meeting and if she needs a lift just let me know as we are not too far away.

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 16 August 2012, 21:07top / bottom of page

Many thanks Chris - have the dates for the group meeting in the diary and hoping to come

Contribution from june saddington 18 August 2012, 18:23top / bottom of page

Many thanks for the warm welcome.

*Makes note about looking out for grumpy Scotsmen with a beards!


Contribution from Tim Ingram 20 January 2013, 10:33top / bottom of page

As I have found elsewhere it is really fascinating and often instructive to look back through copies of the Bulletin over the years. Attitudes change and individuals often have quite trenchant views. But the great stimulation that comes from the plants remains the same.

In Volume 25 (1957) ,on page 103, there is a short note:-

'We learn from a Horticultural paper that, once again, the idea of forming a new Hardy Plant Society is being canvassed. A Hardy Plant Society did exist many years ago but failed from lack of support.

We understand that the advocates of the scheme cite the Alpine Garden Society as a parallel to the association they envisage, but the flaw in the argument is that alpine plant gardening is largely concerned in making small plants from remote places flourish in very different circumstances. Any one who visits our Shows will soon realise that the plants which members grow present a challenge to them, and the Society's activities are largely concerned with sharing the experiences of those set upon meeting this challenge.'

(I detect a hint of snobbery there - It would have been easy to wish them well).

The Hardy Plant Society actually grew steadily to have as strong and committed a membership as the AGS, in different ways, even if never having the same botanical strengths. The reason I cite this is because it illustrates a bias that has probably always been held within the Society between a purist view of the AGS and a more catholic attitude that exists within the membership. This has practical implications because within ours and many other Groups, those who run them and search for new ways of attracting members often belong to both the AGS and HPS and are often involved in running aspects of each. Their incentive is as much to do with stimulating a more educated level of gardening per se, as it is in the detailed culture of alpines or hardy perennials, and that seems no bad thing. This is of particular relevance at a time when many Specialist Plant Societies have been declining in membership, and implies that closer relationships between the Societies are beneficial rather than competitive. And as a corollary that the AGS should not be too purist in its outlook.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 28 April 2013, 09:02top / bottom of page

As a sometime contributor to these pages who has chosen them to air his views about the state of Alpine gardening, I should perhaps have made them on my own personal blog elsewhere. But then they wouldn‚??t have emphasised for how long, and how much value I have obtained from the AGS, and how important it must be for such discussions to occur at times.

My feeling, as someone who is by no means as confident as it might appear, is that the Society itself is the same. A truly confident Society would be expressing opinions on Discussion pages like this; there would be members who find different aspects of alpine plants and gardening so fascinating that it would be difficult not to want to tell others about them. The fact that this doesn‚??t happen implies to me that there is an expectation on us that is unreasonable and that inhibits more interaction, in what after all is a ‚??Gardening‚?? Society and not a professional organisation. To read back through the Bulletin it is obvious that finding contributors, either to write articles, be involved in running Groups and other aspects of the Society, and especially advertising, has always been quite hard. That is not unusual in itself, but Discussion pages like this offer the easiest opportunity of all to compare notes with others, simply describe how much enjoyment is gained from Alpine gardening, tell each other about events, describe talks, share woes about plants (after all to be properly realistic these are what teach you most), and just generally get more conversation. There may be, and are, some wonderful growers and world experts on plants in the AGS, and a great sense of not wanting to appear a fool in writing about your own appreciation of the plant world, and alpines in particular, but gardening and plants are dynamic things and a sense of this is one of the valuable ways of learning about them.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 12 September 2013, 09:33top / bottom of page
Feedback from discussion pages?

Experience shows that this is limited - but on other websites statistical information is, or can be available, on viewing numbers, items of particular interest and so forth. Such information presumably is available for the viewing of the AGS site too, and as someone who has contributed to it relatively significantly in recent years I would be interested to know what interest the website creates. (In the absence of significant direct feedback to contributions). For the contributor it often seems a lonely place!

Contribution from David Nicholson 26 September 2013, 13:20top / bottom of page

Tim, I rarely visit these pages these days but in looking for something else I came across your post.

You got it in one "Experience shows that this (feedback) is very limited". Indeed rather about as limited as is participation-how many of us have asked previously for a facility to use "quotes" on these pages!

I notice there has been no response to your enquiry re feedback figures from the "Hierarchy"-not unusual. Maybe there are three possibilities> One that the figures don't exist; two, that they do but are not seen as important; three, they do but it would be embarrassing to publish.

Either way The Society has a wonderful propensity to shoot it's self in the foot, and this is perhaps very appropriate in it's current decision to cease long standing arrangements with Sister Societies on reciprocal advertising in mutual publications. A decision that enhances the widely held view that AGS is elitist.

I may well have missed it but I certainly couldn't find the previously published pages of, well, let's call, them "digests"available to members of Committee decisions. Have they flown off into the ether? One wonders? Or are these too something to be kept away from proletariat?

Contribution from Edward Jones 18 July 2014, 19:35top / bottom of page
Links to the East Lancs view of affairs

Having produced with colleagues the East Lancs report just posted, I read this thread with interest and recognise the thoughts and feelings brought out with some passion here.   If the suggestion of a fundamental review is acted on, the comments here will be of some value, I feel to the review.   Better late than never.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 19 July 2014, 09:57top / bottom of page

Eddie, I closely concur with the sentiments expressed by the East Lancs Group and feel that the document you have produced is an extremely valuable one, not least because it has come out of deliberations between different AGS members with strong concerns about the Society and with a hard headed look at ways progress can be made. My personal opinion has not changed really and it results from the fact that my wife and I grow plants to sell, and for me it is this propagation and stimulation of gardening with alpine plants which is of fundamental importance. I view them scientifically and artistically too, but actually the nitty gritty of growing them remains at the heart of this. (Just think of the queues of gardeners who used to be attracted to Robin and Sue White’s plants at Blackthorn Nursery, and the huge success of John Massey and Ashwood Nursery, as well as the wonderful plants that Pottertons, Aberconwy and other alpine nurseries grow. Our garden would never have developed the way it has without the stimulation of visiting Joe Elliott and later Elizabeth Strangman and Graham Gough at Washfield in Hawkshurst). Potential new members will also often be involved with many other activities in their working lives and not so many will have the passion and long term interest that I and many other present members have (if they do have then they will already be members!). In the age of the Internet they will be drawn in much more by the sharing of information and detailed practical advice which is so obvious on the SRGC Forum - and which you find in the books previously published by the AGS by people such as Duncan Lowe, Jack Elliott and Robert Rolfe. (At a previous time in the society’s history when there were similar concerns a 'Handbook of Rock Gardening' was published and proved very popular). At the moment the SRGC Forum acts more to advertise the AGS than does the AGS itself, so collaboration between the two societies is evident even if not formally accepted. This has always been the case in the make-up of the Joint Rock Garden Committee and joint Shows, but not so much in the actual presentation of alpine gardening to a wider public. And as has been mentioned very many committed alpine growers will belong to both societies and will hardly want to choose between them. (It could be said that much of the problem arises from too many specialist societies and too few specialist gardeners, or the inevitable dominance of much larger societies like the RHS and conservation minded organisations like Plantlife and the RSPB).  

If the exhibition of plants is such an important part of the Society (of course it is!), then why is it that we don’t actually really encourage people to come to the Shows? The nurseries are key to this as much as the displayed plants, and some conviction that it is worth sharing our interests with other gardeners. I know it is not possible to change things overnight, but I think there has always been an exclusivity about the Shows and many members probably prefer the way things are. The ambivalence about the London AGS Show and the relationship and interest of the RHS in these plants, as well as the media in general, are examples of how exclusive we may appear. I am not personally drawn to the very large Shows staged by the RHS, but most gardeners are; does this mean that there is not a place for smaller and different types of Shows? There may be a few other gardeners who prefer the smaller scale.

I am playing devil’s advocate in some ways, and it is not a comfortable part to play. I think signs of progress will be evident from the responses that come to this Working Document, and here. We are doing a number of things in Kent and even if the results have been pretty limited in attracting new members, they would be even more limited if we hadn’t thought of ways of stimulating greater interest. It seems likely that there will always be an interest in alpine plants of one sort or another, but for those of us who really are fascinated by them and know them in more detail, it’s hard not to want to pass this on.                                                                     

Contribution from Tim Ingram 19 July 2014, 10:29top / bottom of page

(There is something nice by the way, even though data protection is such a bug-bear, to have list of new members, and a welcome, which is there as I read through the latest 'Rock Garden Quarterly' from the NARGS. One can agree or not to have one's details published, and here are several UK gardeners, as well as quite a few from Norway, one from Finland and one from Japan). So it is possible to welcome new AGS members but to have no idea who they are!

Contribution from Edward Jones 21 July 2014, 14:45top / bottom of page

Tim, Your prompt and thoughtful response encourages me.   An open and sharing environment is worth the pursuit.   The document the East Lancs wrote builds on active participation and collaboration between groups.   I am copying to groups where I can in the interests of sharing good practice and hoping that I will be able to benefit also from the experience of others and any comments or reaction.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 22 July 2014, 13:00top / bottom of page

Before writing my next Diary entry (which is on 'seeds') I have just looked back to some of Diane's entries, and must read these in more detail - because collecting and sowing seed is such a wonderful and important part of gardening. But I was drawn particularly to the entry 'Portrait of an AGS Show' which describes the Midland Show in 2009, from beginning to end. It is understandable from reading this and seeing so many skilled growers pictured, and the incredible display of plants (including a little group of stunning daphnes from Robin White!), why my views of growing alpines more in a garden setting don't really tally with many members, and probably why the responses here have been so limited. I hope Diane won't mind when I say that she chastised me for my comments much earlier on, and I did accept the chastisement (and understand it even more now on reading her diary entries which show such commitment to the society), but still hope some of my thoughts have been useful.

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