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
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:
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’.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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…
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.
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?
Julieanne Porter, aka Gwenfar’s Garden