I’m not renewing my RHS Membership by Julieanne Porter

June 3, 2015

in Articles, General Interest

Having just been exposed to the expensive bonanza which is Chelsea, it seemed appropriate to look at the issue of garden costs again. This time the issue is the cost of RHS membership.

This is a little close to my heart because the Veddw used to be a Partnership Garden. Until we realised that we simply couldn’t afford it. I don’t think people visiting private gardens for free on their RHS membership card generally realise that the gardens get nothing from your visit.

Some gardens are commercial and you have to exit through the shop, where the money does perhaps come in. But we only sell our own books and some cards – to some visitors.

So RHS members coming for free sadly weren’t worth the room they took up in our car park and we withdrew from the Partnership scheme.

Anne Wareham, editor

Cropped Landscape portrait Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes at Veddw copyright Charles Hawes img159 S





Why I’m not renewing my membership to the RHS by Julieanne Porter

I’m not renewing my membership to the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society).

Here’s my top five reasons why:

  1. Cost

A yearly subscription for one person is now £55 or £41.25 if you sign up on direct debit. As a renewing member though, it would be £47. This is expensive even if you have a job (well above minimum wage, that is). I called to find out if they offered reduced rates for the unemployed or low waged. No, they don’t. So I cannot afford to renew my subscription now I’m not working. I guess they don’t want poor people visiting or making the most of their ‘benefits’.

Copyright Julianne Porter Harlow Carr Winter Walk Mar14 for thinkingardens

RHS Harlow Carr Winter Walk.

  1. The Garden magazine

It’s all right and has some interesting articles occasionally. But the focus is on big gardens, people with money. I’m finding myself increasingly alienated by what I read in the magazine. Even when they do focus on small gardens, I –

a) question their definition of a small garden (1 acre isn’t small, 7m x 5m is small, a balcony is small);

and b) find when they do include a small garden, say courtyard size, it’s almost always of someone who has lots of money to spend on design, materials and plants.

Julianne Porter, small urban garden for thinkingardens

Julieanne’s small urban garden, only 12m x 5m

  1. Peat

The RHS still refuse to go peat free. Just before writing this post I did a search on the RHS website for ‘policy on peat’. Nothing came up. I did a Google search, same criteria. I found something. No, I didn’t, as when I clicked on the link I got a ‘sorry, we couldn’t find that page’. Going from the Google search I can see they used to have a policy on peat, but don’t any more.

Julianne Porter RHS policy on peat, for thinkingardens

There used to be a RHS policy on peat, but where has it gone?

  1. Benefits

As alluded to in point 1, I question the ‘benefits’ of being a member.

  • So you get the magazine, which is interesting enough, but as I said, focuses on big gardens.
  • You get to visit their gardens for free as many times as you like during the year. Great if you live close to one, which I don’t, or if you can access one via good regular public transport, which is unlikely (see 5 below).
  • You can visit partner gardens. Great. Oh, wait. I discovered (personal conversations) that some partner gardeners run at a loss on the days they take part in the RHS partner scheme. They can get lots of visitors on that day: demanding visitors that though they got in for free, are horrified to find they have to pay for a cup of tea, and complain about the cost of plants, as apparently £4.50 for a good quality plant is expensive (it’s not). I don’t feel comfortable knowing that my visit might negatively impact on the garden I’m visiting. So finding it hard to see this as the benefit I once thought it was.
  1. Their new garden and public transport access

The RHS is planning a new garden, somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester. Great. Oh, but a key criteria is ‘easy access to the UK road network’ (The Garden, April 2015, p. 67). Yes, that’s ‘road network’ not ‘public transport network’. I questioned this on Twitter and was told they need access to roads for large deliveries including building materials. Because apparently organisations and venues in cities can never get large deliveries including building materials. Oh, wait…

Julianne Porter RHS car twitter convo for thinkingardens


Instead of seizing the opportunity to include public transport access as a key part of their planning criteria, they will ‘encourage’ individuals to visit by public transport. If you aren’t putting public transport access at the top of any criteria, you aren’t encouraging people – you are passing the buck.

And no, an hourly bus service is NOT good access to public transport. Anyone who has ever waited for an ‘once an hour’ bus will know that they are not reliable and you can end up waiting for another hour. As a current example, you can visit RHS Harlow Carr and get a bus from Harrogate Bus Station. Yay. Oh, wait, it only runs once an hour. And not on Sundays or public holidays.

Following on from my question to them on Twitter on what part public transport plays in their key criteria, their subsequent response was that they:

“…identified the need for good public transport links with, in addition, opportunities to work with other local attractions to see if we can run joint transport ‘ventures’ sustainably to all locations. This is a key part of the criteria when choosing our 5th garden.”

It’s a pity this wasn’t mentioned in the article in The Garden. To me, the fact that it wasn’t, and that I had to go searching for it still suggests that public transport isn’t as a key criteria as other key criteria.

RHS car twitter convo2

You ned to read this from the bottom up…

Stating that public transport is a key criteria and seeing it actually realised are two very different things. So I will state up front, that if public transport is really part of the key criteria, AND once the new garden has opened it clearly  does have good public transport access, I will publicly apologise (on my personal blog, on thinkingardens and on Twitter). I really hoped to be proved wrong and be forced to issue an apology.

For now, I think this is enough reasons for me to not renew my membership of the RHS. What do you think?

For an alternative view, see Michelle Chapman’s post RHS membership?’, written in November 2008 and updated in April 2015 in response to my post.

Julieanne Porter, aka Gwenfar’s Garden

Blog: http://www.gwenfarsgarden.info/

Julianne Portrait DSC_4633 colour 6mb very sm cr



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Mrs Green December 30, 2016 at 7:47 pm

I have been a member for years,I took my grandaughter and her boyfriend to Wisley on 27th of Dec ,of course the two of us got in for free on my card,and I paid £13 for the other,now I see it goes up to that much in January 2017 ,£11.70 up to then ,why was I charged that much ,they wanted £15 something with gift aid.I am thinking I may not renew my membership next year ,I am a pensioner,not happy .

annewareham December 30, 2016 at 10:53 pm

I am sorry to hear that, Mrs Green.

Angela Jupe December 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Can you imagine what benefits I obtain as an overseas member, even if just across the water in Ireland? Almost none other than the magazine.
I cancelled my membership after many years as the magazine began to arrive 3 weeks late (posted from Holland) so if I was travelling to an event it was over before I received notice! Also the articles became less interesting and on one count there were 22 pages of adverts! Subscription was higher as it included higher postage cost for the magazine and as I often travel alone I was unable to avail of bringing a guest. Not good value and with the internet I can get faster information. Chelsea is a rip-off and other shows which have been taken under RHS control are now too expensive.

Mary James August 26, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Very interesting get to read all the subsequent comments sin email my original one last year when I did cancel my membership. Can’t say I miss the magazine. As someone else else said it’s mostly junk mail and adverts and the quality of the paper inferior for the price. Also really object to seeing just celebs on at Chelsea on a Monday. Members days are as crowded as public days so no benefit there. When I offset the cost as business expenses, now retired it’s not viable, despite them doing ‘charitable work’. Living north, an hour or so from the nearest RHS garden and very few partner gardens no joy there either! And comment about size of gardens very pertinent. Sad really for the leading Horticultural Society in UK.

yizzard August 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm

While on holiday we decided to visit the RHS garden in Essex, a 3 hour round trip but what the hay we were on holiday. It cost us £22 for the pair of us to get in, so we decided to bite the bullet and go the whole hog, signing up for membership. Despite the fact that it is a 4 hour round trip to wisley we thought we would take the grandkids there for a day out. We had a fantastic day so already we have recouped our year’s membership even though its cost us a bit in petrol. To be honest we would have spent that going out for the day on our holiday somewhere anyway.
However I do think it is a lot of money for what we get. The magazine, whilst interesting is not a patch on many of the others on the market which seem to be aimed more for the home growers, and we have already visited most of the partner gardens within reasonable traveling distance while members of the National Trust. So I doubt we will renew next year. I am just going to make sure we get good value this year.

Gordon Patrick February 1, 2016 at 4:10 pm

I let our membership lapse over thirty years ago when we like commentators above we moved too far from Wisley to make it worthwhile tetaining membership. I believe I am in saying that thos days pre 1980 entrance to Chelsea was included in ones membership. Mind you even then it was no pleasure trying move around the exhibits. Having just called the RHS to enquire about membership and benefits I wont be rejoining.

John November 5, 2015 at 8:04 pm

And another thought!

We go to plant events and end up buying lots of plants for which we have no room in the garden.

We go to book events and end up buying books for which we have no room on our bookshelves.

We go to food events and buy more food than we’re going to eat before it goes mouldy.

This is the danger of visiting a partner garden!

Matt November 4, 2015 at 7:33 pm

You’re definitely not the only one, Rachel. The reasons mentioned above (irrelevance, elitism, expense, accessibility) are why I let my RHS membership lapse after only a couple of years.

John November 4, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Taking a second bite of the commenting cherry! Some people report that an attempt to cancel their membership is met with a lengthy response not dissimilar to the “corporate” response in a comment above. I wonder, though, whether the number of cancellations has risen and the RHS are becoming resigned to the fact. I emailed, out of courtesy, to let them know I wouldn’t be renewing and that I’d cancelled the direct debit. The reply was two sentences: the first saying they were sorry I’d made that decision and the second that my membership was now set to expire at the end of April (why April, not March, I wonder). No attempt to persuade me to change my mind.

annewareham November 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm

They know you…..?

John November 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Are you implying they’re glad to see the back of me? Well I have been a little (!) critical of their approach to a few issues. And a little critical of the fact that I invited them to engage with me and they didn’t. And a lot critical of the amount of advertising junk they enclose with “The Garden” (which in one month weighed more than the magazine itself!). But, in my pursuit of self-flagellation, I’ve bought my ticket for RHS Cardiff in 2016 in the hope of being able to buy a bottle of Welsh vodka at a discount and running into a few friends in the process.

annewareham November 4, 2015 at 11:05 pm

See you there! Xxx (and I hate plastic packaging and piles of waste paper with my post too. Always tempted just to burn the lot.)

Peter Cope November 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

After discovering (during a visit to Veddw actually, one of the more enjoyable gardens to visit, but I won’t mention that as I think Anne does read these comments now and again ) that partner gardens got nothing we were rather disappointed with the RHS, an organisation we’d had a pretty ambivalent relationship with before. A monolithic organisation that loses no opportunity to make money (including charging a fortune for ghastly food at Chelsea, but that’s another axe I’ve got to grind…) was exploiting the good will of passionate gardeners across the country.

We stopped using the card for these freebies, on the basis that visiting and enjoying gardens is my wife’s recreation and me exploring with a camera is mine, and the actual cost, for us at least, was not large. I’m not putting the RHS subs aside and using it to fund even more visits next year. It’s perhaps the horticultural equivalent of ‘shopping locally’ rather than supermarkets.

Rachel the Gardener November 4, 2015 at 11:07 am

Hooray, I’m not the only one!

If i hadn’t already agreed with everything that Julieanne said, the RHS’s corporate response would have done it. I wonder if they have training in “how to alienate real gardeners and normal everyday folks”?

Last year I was given a stack of old Garden magazines, going back to 2001, and it took me ages to read through them: they were interesting, informative – even to a Professional Gardener like me – and I cut out and saved several items from each issue for my various gardening ideas-and-info files.

By the time I got up to 2012, I was flicking though them and binning them complete, which made me wonder what has changed? It’s all glossy photos now, and not much in the way of real content: and, as has been said, the gardens featured are unrealistically large. I know that there is “inspirational”, but there is also “dispiriting” to be considered.

So paying over £50 for a magazine which I find useless, for access to four gardens that I can’t easily get to, and to shows that I wouldn’t be seen dead at, because they are full of “tat”, imported plants, and high-expense creations?

No thanks.

I’ll continue to visit gardens via the NGS Yellow Book: they’re not perfect – I was seriously under-impressed with Westwell Manor (http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/garden-review-westwell-manor-nr-burford.html) but in general they are interesting, and small enough to feel “real”, with problems, plants and situations that I can relate to.

Ben Probert November 4, 2015 at 6:39 pm


I’ve long thought that The Garden has been getting more and more basic and uninteresting, and it’s nice to hear someone else has actually waded through magazines and come to the same conclusion!

annewareham November 4, 2015 at 6:51 pm

That’ll be since I started writing for them…..(!)

Ben Probert November 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm

No pressure Anne, but the fate of the entire magazine rests in your hands…

annewareham November 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

They must be so regretting it….

Mike Millington November 4, 2015 at 9:13 am

I have just received my membership renewal notice from the RHS. I can do no more than agree with all of the comments made in this article. The RHS is increasingly becoming an expensive organisation to be a member of. I fail to see where the benefits of membership come in. Not living close to RHS gardens, finding the magazine The Garden generally uninteresting (I too am bored by the endless parade of the “great and good” with massive gardens), and not living near London to make use of the The Lindley library, I am seriously questioning why I remain a member. Yes, I do qualify for members only tickets at shows, but is it really worth £50 a year just to get preferential entrance? Especially when I wouldn’t be seen dead at another of those ghastly RHS Chelsea shows where the rich and famous coagulate with the media to produce the most overhyped event in the British calendar in a space far, far too small to make it into a pleasurable experience.

C.Pace September 22, 2015 at 9:01 pm

You don’t get to visit the RHS gardens for free- you’ve paid through your membership.
After all how many visits can you honestly make in a year ?

Walt September 23, 2015 at 1:31 pm

I look upon RHS garden visits as a bonus to the magazine. When our link road opens next month (hopefully) it will make Rosemoor more easily accessible, although the North Devon Link Road needs completing! I did visit Wisley last month as I was in the area, and try to visit one partner garden a year.

annewareham September 23, 2015 at 2:05 pm

(Hope you find a way to compensate the Partner garden for the freebie…Xx)

Walt September 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

My Wife is a paying customer:-)

annewareham September 23, 2015 at 5:50 pm

That always helps. xxx

David L June 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

I do think that the RHS is reasonable value for money, do like The Garden magazine albeit that I don’t necessarily want to read every article every month and think that the work that they do is crucial. That said, living in North Wales I live 4 and a half hours drive from Rosemoor, 3 and a half hours drive from Wisley, 3 hours drive from Harlow Carr and 4 hours drive from Hyde Hall so the sooner their 5th garden is up and running the better. I very rarely get the opportunity to visit them but find them great when I do. However, the point which I think you make very well relates to public transport. I am not sure whether anyone else has tried to get to Wisley by public transport from central London ………

Walt June 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm

We used to have Gardeners’ World magazine every month but traded that for RHS membership for myself only, so we still have a gardening magazine plus benefits, occasionally, for similar cost. Our closest RHS garden is Rosemoor some 2 hours drive so we don’t visit very often. I would like to make the point that although RHS Partnership Garden don’t gain from members directly those members may well be accompanied by a paying entrant, which in our case is my Wife, or possibly friends. Also this can mean the difference between receiving a visit and not. Also those gardens getting “advertised” in the magazine, received by how many members? As for reduced membership subs for the unemployed, it sounds good but how would it work? Some people are seasonal workers, or might become employed after joining, that opens a can of worms for the membership department. As for charging for car parking that sounds like the “local council” mentality and you only have to look at the state of town centres to see what has happened to them particularly down our way!

annewareham June 10, 2015 at 4:21 pm

We’re not likely to start charging for parking.

We did suggest to the RHS that they do a 2 for 1 scheme, which would have given the benefit of at least one paying visitor (it was remarkable how rarely there was an extra who was not an RHS member) but they wouldn’t have that or even a shorter period of time for us to be offering free entrance.

I’m sure it’s worth it to some gardens, especially those selling other things besides entrance. I do think people should be aware that the gardens don’t get any direct recompense though.

membership services June 10, 2015 at 11:09 am

The RHS receives no government funding and is acutely aware that without the incredible support of our 430,000 plus members we wouldn’t be able to do our vast charitable work and deliver our programme of gardening events and activities.

We’re hugely grateful for the support of our members as it’s thanks to them that we can undertake extensive science research and share what we learn, in addition to providing great gardening advice to millions of people in the UK and around the world.

With our members’ support we’re able to produce the country’s only directory of UK nurseries, RHS Plant Finder, which is free online and provides the contact details of over 550 nurseries across Britain, to help gardeners locate and support their local growers. We’re also able to conduct annual trials of dozens of plants to ensure they are fit for purpose and can be awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). And with our members’ support we deliver the RHS Campaign for School Gardening, which today gets more than four million children learning through gardening, and run Europe’s largest gardening campaign, RHS Britain in Bloom – making a positive difference to streets, villages, towns and cities across the UK.

Thanks to our members’ support we also work with other organisations on issues that can have a direct impact on UK growers and gardeners, including EU regulation, and the identification and control of pests and diseases. We make our expertise available to Government on matters relevant to gardeners and growers, including horticultural skills, pesticides, water usage and sustainable growing media. We do listen to our members and to people’s views and whilst we’re currently looking at and reviewing some of the content on our advisory pages, we have put our updated position on peat use live on our website, as a priority. We have also taken on board comments about the size of gardens featured in The Garden magazine, and this is a subject we are already looking to address.
There is much more work that we do and care passionately about to promote gardening and help gardeners, but we wouldn’t be able to do any of it without our members’ support. We try very hard to give something back to members as a means of thanking them, and hopefully inspiring and helping them to garden and get enjoyment from their gardening too.

An individual RHS membership, which helps to fund all our work and offers the member and a guest access to all four RHS gardens for free, costs £41.25 or 79p a week (12 for 9 DD first year). Our student membership costs £10 a year (or 19p a week). Renewing members pay £50, which is 96p a week. Members also have priority booking (during November), members’ days and discounted rates for RHS Shows e.g. a saving of up to £52 on Public Days at Chelsea, and have access to personalised advice from our experts. The monthly subscription to The Garden magazine on its own is worth £51 a year.

Of course we’re always sorry and sad when members do decide to leave us, but we hope that they can still enjoy and use our website, perhaps get involved with one of our campaigns such as Greening Grey Britain, or RHS Britain in Bloom, or watch our Flower Shows on the TV.

Julieanne Porter (@GwenfarsGarden) June 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Thank you for taking the time to reply. You have given us a lot of information about the RHS, but unfortunately little of it actually addressed the issues I raised in my post.

1. You talk about the cost of membership, but say nothing about why there isn’t a low wage/unemployed membership rate. Why isn’t there? Or is the RHS not interested in reaching out to gardeners on low/no incomes?

2. Great – you are taking ‘on board’ issues about garden sizes in The Garden. When is this going to be realised? The next issue going forward? In 2020? Will small, inexpensive gardens be a monthly feature?

3. Peat, “we have put our updated position on peat use live on our website, as a priority”. Again, how soon will this priority be realised? Why was the previous policy removed without an update in its place? The issue of peat use is a hot topic in horticulture and it’s rather surprising that the RHS isn’t being clear on it’s position/policy.

4. Partner gardens – no reply at all to this. It’s great that you want to give something back to members, but at whose cost?

5. This of course remains to be seen and I look forward to visiting the new garden by regular public transport when it opens.

It would be great if the RHS could respond directly to the questions raised in my post, particularly in regards to membership fees for the low waged/unemployed, peat, and partner gardens. I look forward to reading that soon.

Ben Probert June 13, 2015 at 1:23 pm

A suitably corporate response, and confirms the RHS’ commitment to things I’m not interested in. I’ll just pay my membership for free trips to Rosemoor, but if for any reason I can’t get my money’s worth then I’ll cancel it.

Incidentally, this business of charging more for renewals, if I cancel then reapply to be a member then surely I can pay £41.25 instead of £55.00? I can’t understand why the RHS must penalise members who want to maintain membership by £13.75 each year when the payments are already set up as direct debits (so significantly reduced admin costs). Clearly continued support is worth much less than new members!

Rosalind July 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Gosh I hadn’t realised I was being penalised by £13.75 for renewing by DD. Why is it that marketing departments think alienating committed members is is a good idea?

Keith Berry August 24, 2016 at 2:45 pm

I haven’t renewed my membership for several years; my partner or I cancel each year and the other takes out ‘new’ membership at a price lower than that offered to existing members renewing. Last year I cancelled my sub and then received a phone call to ask why. My reply about favouring new subscribers over existing members was met by an offer to renew at the ”new subscriber” rate! I was happy to accept!

Claire Cox June 9, 2015 at 12:40 am

I really value my RHS membership, even as a single, self-employed gardening fanatic. For couples, such as my retired parents, who can both get entry into the RHS gardens for the price of one membership, it’s even better value. I’ve taken friends in with me too on my card, so that’s a nice bonus. I really enjoy The Garden magazine each month and pass mine on to friends who have a herbal dispensary practice, so it gets well read by waiting patients too. I can’t understand how people can say it has nothing for more expert gardeners when it often looks at relatively unknown gardens, examines plant developments or issues within the industry – it certainly goes into a great deal more depth than magazines such as Gardener’s World, which I buy twice a year – once for the calendar and once for the 2-for-one card, although that’s of limited use to singletons. Membership also gives you not only discounted entry to the RHS shows, but the ability to book earlier and go on members-only days. Again I often take a friend who isn’t a member (you can buy up to 4 tickets with one membership, if I remember rightly, so you all benefit). I do see the point about partner gardens not benefiting from the RHS partner scheme and found that the Chelsea Physic Garden had also let the arrangement lapse when I visited before Chelsea this year. I suppose the only perceived benefit might be extra publicity from the connection? I’m glad they’ve introduced GiftAid over recent years as it means the membership fees work even harder to promote RHS research. All in all, I think my membership (and my National Trust membership)are well worth the price I pay – you only need to visit gardens 4 times a year (for either organisation) and you’ve already covered your outlay, let alone all the other benefits. Each to their own, I suppose.

Robert Myerscough December 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm

How refreshing to see positive comments amongst so much griping. With 440,000 members I would hardly call the RHS elitist. The Society does tremendous work throughout the UK, and membership fees cover only part of the cost. No doubt a lot of voluntary work goes into the difficult task of fundraising, for which those involved get little or no credit, nor would they look for it.
Supporting a charity is all about giving, not taking, so we are lucky to have a wide range of benefits available to us, even if we cannot alway enjoy them – I live in Ireland!

Stuart June 8, 2015 at 10:08 pm

I had to stop my membership when I became unemployed & haven’t renewed primarily because I am now on the “living wage.” I did enjoy aspects of “The Garden” but being in Scotland I am a long way from the RHS Gardens. Your post makes good points, Julieanne. I love big gardens but I only have a tiny plot – hence my blog: http://lifeinabackgarden.blogspot.co.uk/ I don’t suppose the RHS will change its policies to be more friendly to those on lower incomes but thanks for letting me know I am not alone. I also had not even considered the impact on partner gardens – so thanks to you and Anne for making me more aware of that issue too.

Charlotte Frost June 6, 2015 at 11:55 pm

I didn’t know that partner gardens could lose money by allowing me free entry. All those times I’ve got in for nothing. I’m checking to see whether the same is true of my Art Pass.

adam skinner June 5, 2015 at 12:31 pm

You’ve really got me thinking about my subscription. Over twenty five years a member… Been to Wisley half a dozen times… the magazine can be a good read, but a stack of unopened ones might be interpreted as clue… RHS relies on the inertia of people staying as members, because it seems like the right thing to do, if you are interested in gardening. Advice on pests and diseases is now available elsewhere at the click of a button, and lots of different types of gardening have their own specialist press.
I have also stopped watching Gardeners’ World, for several different reasons…but that perhaps is a thread all in itself…[if you haven’t all talked about it before I discovered Anne’s excellent book. I did think the threads would be more bad tempered though!]

annewareham June 5, 2015 at 9:24 am

From Jean Sherry:
Spot on – Julieanne has detailed all the reasons why I’ve never become a member of the RHS. Most of all, the irritant to me is that it is elitist, as she says; I want organisations that encourage “ordinary” people (often with only tiny gardens) to develop an interest in growing things (which has the additional benefit of supporting wildlife). And as she says, their gardens are largely inaccessible to the majority of people.

mary james June 4, 2015 at 8:10 pm

This article may well have tipped me over the edge! For the last few years I have contemplated giving up my membership for all the reasons mentioned and in the comments. They (The RHS) are so elitist. Perhaps if I lived in/nr London it would be worth it or near one of their gardens. So thanks Julieanne you have given me the push I need to take the leap.

tristan gregory June 4, 2015 at 6:26 pm

i suppose that the rhs will continue to fill all available space in horticulture until something better is presented as an alternative. i agree with all the points raised and can see that horticulture could be better served but the question is by whom and can one subscribe?

annewareham June 4, 2015 at 7:15 pm

thinkingardens might be a good start?

Paul Steer June 4, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Yes !

Gail Francis June 4, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I totally agree with every point that you raise Julieanne. I am a member of the RHS because it was a Christmas gift and have been on and off over the last 20 yrs, BUT I don’t feel the benefits cover the cost. The free seeds available cost £8.50 postage – so not free then. I don’t live near one of the four gardens and the voucher in my gift package for a free bag had to be redeemed at one of the gardens before April.

I think I’ll just ask for a gift voucher for next Christmas.

Clare Paver (cp53a) June 4, 2015 at 1:17 pm

I had my membership bought as a (lovely & thoughtful) gift some 12 years ago and have continued the subscription (even though I’ve barely used it) until now – June 2015 – when my current financial constraints demand this year’s increased £50 renewal cost be better off in my pocket. Apart from that, I have no well-thought-out argument for leaving the RHS, merely a knee-jerk reaction to something that irks me every May in SW1.

In their “sorry you have decided to cancel your membership” letter, the RHS listed the (look what you’re missing) member benefits I received: “The Garden Magazine delivered free every month, year round visits to the four RHS Gardens, free days out at more than 145 partner gardens and privileged access and discounts to RHS Shows.”

I hardly think a gardening magazine full of adverts and junk-mail flyers that I only ever scan through, clipping the bits that may prove useful and a once a year, 100 mile round trip to Wisley justify the cost.

I have never visited a partner garden – the few within easy reach having inconvenient opening times. As for the discount to shows, it’s not particularly generous and have therefore only used it once for a brief visit to Hampton Court.

There are simply not enough member benefits to keep me interested and as much as I appreciate the good work the RHS does horticulturally, I draw the line when my membership fee allows celebs (who earn a lot more £s than I) privileged, free access to Chelsea every year. Time to say goodbye!

Lou June 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm

I had this debate with myself and in the end I decided to join the National Trust this year
1.It offered more for less money for our family and there seem to be more places to visit:
2. I can get my garden fix by pottering around other people’s gardens as many times as I like
3. They often sell plants and gardening bits
4. It’s a cheap outing with the sproglets.
4. We are given a quick history lesson and sometimes a chance to dress up in period costume [mortifies the sproglets when I partake – see, another benefit]

I love going to Malvern Show each year as I feel it is full of gardeners like me but confess that when I went to Chelsea twice, I felt intimidated, poor and I couldn’t see anything properly because there were just too many people.

maggiewalder June 4, 2015 at 12:30 pm

We live and garden in Galicia Northern Spain (climate very like Uk) and I keep my membership of The RHS up as we have always found the gain outweighs the pain. We like the magazine, we take advantage of the free seed offer every year (12 Packs) and though we have not used it you can access free advice on identification of plants and diseases. They were also very helpful with advice on controls of plant movement from uk to Galicia. Yes there is a feeling of elitism at some times but I have always found that disappears when you start to talk about the whole reason for the contact, plants and gardens. We feel the subscription is good value and the RHS is a charity so needs to make a profit.

Bill June 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

Ah Ha! The Rhs-itous are of course an elite group. But then that is the point (Never disclosed but always inferred). Thus one cannot but be looked down upon by the Great, Good and Well-cashed-Up.

Yes I was once a member but since I now live abroad my membership fell away. But should I return to the UK I would not rejoin the Rhs-itous. Partly because I’m pretty good myself..!

But it is hard to change an organisation from the outside. I mean LOOK! At FiFA…

Love and Kisses Bill

Kate Griffin June 4, 2015 at 10:44 am

“So RHS members coming for free sadly weren’t worth the room they took up in our car park…”

Why not charge for car parking? Serious question. It costs you money to maintain the spaces and there’s obviously demand for the spaces that needs managing in some way. So why not charge? If you’re not subsidising the fares of people who get to you by public transport, why subsidise the people who drive?

annewareham June 4, 2015 at 11:09 am

We did wonder about that when we had a smaller car park (you’re right – we’ll never recover the cost of having a decent car park!) – but it’s not practical, nor does it feel right to penalise other visitors because of the RHS thing. And there just isn’t any public transport to Veddw sadly.

I suggested to the RHS they might consider a 2 for 1 ticket, but no…

Kate Griffin June 4, 2015 at 11:49 am

That’s a shame! I guess you *could* run a shuttle bus from Chepstow station a few times a day (and pay for it by charging for car parking?!) but then you end up drifting into the transport business rather than the awesome-gardens business! Still, I love the idea of the “Veddw Voyager” bus service picking up excited visitors… and then taking them back to the station laden with plants! The bus would probably need a special area for everybody’s plant purchases! Oh well, I can dream!

Rachel the Gardener November 5, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Kate, if I drove to a garden and had to pay for car parking as well as pay for entrance … I’d turn right around and drive away.

As a “customer” I maintain that it is the duty of the garden to provide adequate, free parking, if they want visitors.

Some places – there’s an eco-place in Machyn-something I’m thinking of – reduce the entrance fee if you produce your bus or train ticket, which is probably the only fair way of doing it.

Norma June 4, 2015 at 10:21 am

Exactly why, when it comes to the crunch, I’ve never joined. Especially the benefits and small gardens points. There are some charities / organisations I support just because I support their aims, even though the membership benefits don’t in fact benefit me. The RHS doesn’t meet that criterion: I’d rather support Plantlife.

Recently I learned about the Association of Gardens Trusts, which seems a very good idea.


There’s also the National Council for Conseration of Plants and Gardens.

Both those seem v worthwhile to me and I’d be interested to know what others think?


Julieanne Porter (@GwenfarsGarden) June 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I don’t know about Assoc of Garden Trusts (but will look them up – thanks) but do know of NCCPG and they do both important and good work.

I’m am a member of the Hardy Plant Society http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/ and a member of my local group. For £23 a year (for national £17 & £5 local) you get a indepth journal several times a year, access to their seed exchange and conservation programme, plus lots of free local talks, often with top plants and nursery people from across the country. On top of that there are groups visits to gardens, many not open otherwise to the public. There is a lot of direct engaging and learning involved which I’ve found invaluable; to me it is quite worth the membership fee(s).

I agree with you that it’s not just about membership benefits though, its also about supporting their aims. Whilst I do think the RHS does do some good work, to me, the reasons above outweigh any good they do. I’d rather put my limited funds towards an organisation that is more accessible both financially and practically.

Cathy Rollinson June 5, 2015 at 8:50 am

Thanks for the mention of the Hardy Plant Society. Members often say what they really like is the company of like-minded people who love plants and gardens and who enjoy learning and sharing knowledge. New members welcome!

Paul Steer June 3, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Good to read that someone is championing those of us who cannot afford their fees ! I have never been inclined to join – but I love gardens and visiting them and we ordinary mortals can make gardens of worth on a limited budget – so why is the RHS so exclusive?

I remember that the editor of The Garden expressed concern about young gardeners and how to encourage their interest – be more accessible!

Ben Probert June 3, 2015 at 7:11 pm

I live about an hour from my nearest RHS garden, RHS Rosemoor… make that 6 1/2 hours by public transport! If I didn’t like going there through (and treating my friend to a trip out) I wouldn’t bother with RHS membership at all. I’m not interested in the London flower shows and the magazine isn’t exactly challenging and informative if you’ve been gardening for long. I just don’t get much from being a member!

Gaynor Witchard June 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I stopped my membership two years ago. What I don’t like is the cosy relationship between the ‘clique’ I’ve come to know. I’m my own person and make my own decisions – however unpopular – because I don’t seek to become a known public ‘face’.

John June 3, 2015 at 5:20 pm

I won’t be renewing my membership next year. Apart from the points Julieanne makes, there’s the fact that the RHS Gardens are all so far away from me that it would take a mortgage to pay for the petrol! Using public transport would entail at least one overnight stay so even more expensive than petrol!

The “Partner Gardens” used to be called something else – was it “Recommended Gardens”? The name change was largely, I think, down to complaints that the old name meant, in effect, that you could buy a recommendation by allowing RHS members something free (echoes of Fifa?). So the RHS gains and the gardens lose. Plus, many of the gardens also feature in the Gardeners’ World Magazine 2-for-1 offer and £5 for a magazine once a year is a lot less than £50 for a membership card. And the GW offer is often valid on more days!

And to what extent does the RHS promote British gardening? Remember last year’s debacle of promoting an Interflora bouquet for Valentine’s day composed of imported flowers at the expense of British growers. How much of that teapot display in the marquee at Chelsea this year was British grown? The RHS is not merely maintaining its environmental credentials by using peat but also by, indirectly if not directly, helping to ramp up the airmiles!

The RHS seems now to be little more than a money-making machine. Witness the number of UK nurseries that can no longer afford to exhibit at many shows because of the cost. I noticed a lot more bare grass in the marquees at Cardiff this year. Yet independent shows (e.g. Toby Buckland’s) are taking off.

Katherine Crouch June 3, 2015 at 3:32 pm

I let my RHS membership lapse about 10 years ago. Being self employed and usually skint, I don’t get out often enough to visit 50 quids worth of anywhere, whether RHS, National Trust, English Heritage, museums, art galleries and so on. No wonder all these organisations complain their membership is getting older – I might find time to visit all these places once I retire…..by which time I won’t be able to afford the subs….

The magazine is OK – I read my Mum’s. If I want to visit a garden it will probably be for NGS – private enjoyable gardens of variable quality for under a fiver, cup of tea, slice of lemon drizzle cake, cheap plant – that’ll do me!

annewareham June 3, 2015 at 3:36 pm

You might try the Veddw now and then, Katherine…Xx

Katherine Crouch June 4, 2015 at 2:39 pm

oh heck yeah!

John June 4, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Just remember to take a lemon drizzle cake with you. Anne will say thanks for the cake and give you a cup of tea (though don’t expect any cake with it). So take a second cake but don’t let her see it. xx

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