Goodbye and thank you to the RHS, by Anne Wareham

February 27, 2012

in Editorial

Just before Christmas I received notice that the RHS would be withdrawing funding for thinkingardens, as they can no longer afford to support it. 

In January I wrote to Sue Biggs (RHS Director-General) and Elizabeth Banks,  (President of the RHS) as follows:

In 2005 Stephen Anderton and I decided to see what we could do to create a forum for the serious, in depth discussion of gardens and garden related issues that was missing from the mainstream media.

With this in mind,  in the spring of that year Stephen Anderton  took this idea to the RHS President Sir Richard Carew Pole and the Director General  Andrew Colquhoun, who proposed that he should set up a group of people, with the blessing of the RHS, to take these ideas further. I understand that part of Sir Richard Carew Pole’s attraction to the idea was that it filled a gap in the RHS’s profile – to act as a learned society within the world of the arts and the specialised art of gardens.

The thinkingardens Group was formed, drawing members from the wider world of garden thinkers and from the staff of The Garden magazine. Latterly the committee consisted of Michael Balston, Ian Hodgson, Corrine Julius, Chris Young, Lesley Hegarty and myself.

We were always independent of the RHS but working alongside it, with its support. We launched with a symposium at Vincent Square with the great and good of the garden world. We held a variety of events, for example, suppers where ideas about gardens were discussed over good food and a drink.

And I created a website = http://thinkingardens.co.uk/

I have edited the website for the past six years, during which time  it has gone from strength to strength. For the last few years the RHS paid me an honorarium of £1800 a year and paid for the web hosting and design.

I have ended up spending about two days a week working on the site and have published an enormous range of articles, usually fortnightly, by some of our best garden professionals such as John Brookes, Mary Keen, James Alexander-Sinclair and Noel Kingsbury, and also many pieces by budding garden writers and designers. The site was recently mentioned by Tim Richardson in his review of influential gardeners in the Telegraph. We have an average 250 page views a day from all over the world.

Last year the site was awarded Website of the Year by the Garden Media Guild..

For some reason the funding always seemed to come via a back door, through ‘The Garden.’ Last month Chris Young informed the committee that after consultation with his managers this funding will be ending and with it the association between thinkingardens and the RHS.

It seems to me that the project is too important and too vital to the garden world to abandon, so I will find a way to keep it going independently.

I am writing this to reassure myself that you are aware of this history and of  the esteem that the RHS and thinkingardens have mutually gained from this association – and of its abrupt termination.

It seems wrong to simply end this association without some acknowledgement of the mutual benefits which have accrued and without some expression of regret.

Yours sincerely,  Anne Wareham

______________________________________

 I have had no reply.

Thinkingardens is now commercial and is taking advertising to help fund it – so welcome to Everedge. An excellent product which I am delighted to have on the site as our first advertisement. I am grateful to them for kicking this off and giving me some confidence that thinkingardens will continue to flourish.

That – and the amazing contributions from all who write for thinkingardens. Maybe if it is really successful I’ll be paying you one day.

I am determined to keep the site fresh and good looking and to use advertisers I trust and feel good about. Wish me luck!

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham, portrait copyright Charles Hawes

 

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Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall March 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I’ve been away, so only just caught up with your news of the withdrawal of support by the RHS. A shame, but, as others have commented, it may be better for Thinkingardens to be completely independent. DO keep up the good work.
Good for Everedge. I hope other makers of good quality products will join them soon.

annewareham March 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Thank you – and I will be going on, choose (almost) what. And I hope the makers of good quality products all take your hint. That will certainly help a lot.

kininvie February 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Speaking as just another gardener, I’ve never had a lot of time for the horticultural establishment (especially since I live 400 miles away from most of it). So I’m thrilled to see you strke out on your own. Prophet in wilderness stuff….

annewareham February 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Counting on having you alongside! Thanks for this.

Genevieve February 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

What a lame shame. It’s unfortunate that the RHS cannot wrap its mind around the potential that it’s forging forward through differences in a relationship that make each side stronger/better.

ThinkinGardens has shaken the can and turned garden writing /thinking upside down all for the better. Keep it up!!

annewareham February 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I will! I will! You watch me! (collapses in exhausted heap)XXXX

Victoria February 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

I can understand that you feel disappointed by the RHS’s failure to continue funding – and by their failure to reply. But I’m quite pleased, actually, to think that Thinkingardens will continue as an independent forum.
I think it proves that there is a demand for this sort of debate – and I personally think it’s much better for that debate to be outside the RHS.
I feel it’s much better to operate as an external pressure group than be seen as the “militant tendency”, or esoteric corner, of a very large and cumbersome organisation that caters for the majority view.

annewareham February 29, 2012 at 10:33 am

Biggest thing is that it pushes me out into new and unknown territory: needing to learn about advertising and a lot of business things. It’s good for us to keep pushing the boundaries out though, isn’t it??

So a whole new world – and thank you and everyone who has offered support. Dreaming now of blossoming so well that I can pay contributors!

John Kingdon February 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

There are always two sides to any situation. I cannot claim in any way to be a member of the cognoscensi, designerati or gardenerati to which, arguably, this site was designed to pander. I am merely another ordinary gardener, member of the RHS, dreamer about propagating the first true blue rose and trying to be organic (and would be were it not for my all consuming love of lilies and the need to combat an annual infestation of lily beetle). That I love “the book” (Bad Tempered Gardener) for all the wrong reasons is incidental. But if this site is designed and intends to cater only for that elite group of designers, professional bloggers and so on, then it has failed. That I’m here, among others, indicates that it has not failed. Rather it has engaged at least some of us illiterati.

Conversely, the imagery of the site is very much Veddw. The book to which I have referred is promoted. There is a feel that the site is Anne’s; every article is prefaced. Maybe that is the issue that leads the RHS to withdraw funding. Indeed, that the RHS has not responded to Anne’s message after so long seems to me indicative that they are trying to find a way around the embarassing facts (as they see them). There is no doubting that Anne is opinionated. Maybe in voicing my thoughts I am similarly, and unjustifiably, so. I do not know.

What I do know, though, is that having found this site I want it to continue. The debate about RHS judging (to which I have contributed what may be an incoherent minority view) would not have happened on the RHS’s own site. As an ordinary RHS member, I do feel that there is an overwhelming element of “them and us”. Although, as I’ve said above, this site has a particular audience, I feel more comfortable expressing a view here than I do on the RHS’s own site. Indeed, I visit this site far more often than the RHS one – forget when I last visited that!

Whether or not you agree with Anne, you’ve got to give some credit for her “as she sees it” and “in your face” approach. The world needs people like her! (I’ve got to say something like that as she’ll have the moderator power over whether this gets published.)

And I have a particular and personal reason for liking this site. Something totally non-gardening which has been bugging me for years has been “sorted” as a result of contacts made here.

(Oh, and yes, I’ve got many metres of Everedge around the garden. It’s really good.)

annewareham February 29, 2012 at 12:03 am

Thanks for this, John, – but it’s long and I will bore people if I answer in depth. You may be right about why the RHS has withdrawn support but I imagine I may never know. I am intrigued as to what might be the wrong reasons for liking my book!

I don’t know how, as such an ‘ordinary’ gardener you got interested in a site designed to keep you out, but now you’re here I guess you might as well hang around? Hope so!

dcecil April 27, 2012 at 4:29 am

Anne, I am an ordinary gardener too with no interest in a blue rose. The site and the writing is fantastic and speaks to my interests. We gardeners with dirty hands, big ideas and a need for interesting discourse that will enrich a gardening life – salute you.

annewareham April 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

I’m grateful for your support and for taking time to tell me. Thank you – and I will keep going!

donnacanadensis February 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Anne,
A regrettable decision be the RHS. I only recently discovered thinkingardens and was immediately taken by its intelligent and thought provoking discourse, a refreshing departure from repetitive content we get in the mainstream gardening periodicals, especially in North America. I hope you can keep thinkingardens going. Nothing wrong with going commercial as long as your sponsors don’t dictate content and editorial policy! As for encouraging more business advertising, we, your followers can encourage others to subscribe to thinkingardens: the bigger the audience the more attractive it will be to advertisers.
Good luck!

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:57 pm

I am so glad to be offering something outside the UK and hope to offer more of the specific content that is of interest to people in the USA. In fact, for everywhere where there are gardens with people taking them seriously. If and as I can manage that. Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Su Johnston February 28, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Daft as it may sound, I would write again. If I have learned anything about communication it’s that there is so much of it these days that much gets binned first time (often not be the intended recipient but by their administrative staff).

I’ve written to the RHS about several things and other than Sue Biggs (who did reply to me first time) have had to repeat my initial message every time.

If a message doesn’t get the response it should have (at least an acknowledgement in this case) I’d do the old-fashioned thing and pick up the phone to make sure that the initial letter/email was received.

Sounds to me as if the blog will be fine, probably better, but the ending of the RHS involvement should be neater and more courteous shouldn’t it?

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:54 pm

It would have been good to have ended the association with the RHS on a happier note and you may be right about why it hasn’t happened. But I am excited about the future now and intending to put my energies there.

Peter (from EverEdge) February 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Anne, I’m delighted that we could not only help out your excellent site but I am quite sure that, from a marketing perspective, the RHS cutting the funding could be rather good news for us ! Your site targets exactly the people we look for, people who really care and think about their gardens.

Having read many of the comments here, I don’t worry for a second for the future of a site with such a loyal and dedicated readership.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Thank you for your faith in thinkingardens, Peter.

Arabella Sock February 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Oh dear, oh dear..Anne.. the role of poor me.. victim of the nasty RHS doesn’t suit you at all and I feel you are being somewhat disingenuous about the whole thing. Thinking Gardens is very much your vehicle and driven in the direction you want it. This is fine and a GOOD thing but why should the RHS support you, particularly when occasionally your agenda appears to be highly critical of them. Even my cat doesn’t expect treats after continually biting my hand!

As an RHS member I don’t see why they should pay you £1800 per year any more than I would expect them to fund my blog which often gets over 1000 views per week if I have published something (and I am quite supportive in writing about their events and general organisation). So I don’t think there is anything dark, mysterious or intriguing going on here or that you need assume the role of victim.

I do think you were owed a polite response to your letter and it may be that it just takes a long time for these things to get done – although that is not a good enough excuse. I also think that you should view this as a positive way of ensuring that Thinking Gardens can continue to promote your thoughts and feelings without being seen as in any way a link to the RHS.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I expect one of your amazing and entertaining parodies soonest, Arabella.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Additional – Arabella, in fairness to the RHS I should say that thinkingardens was set up, with them, to be independent and not to be PR for them. Which was courageous of them – as indeed the whole enterprise was.

As to my running the site – I took the Manifesto and the Mission Statement as my brief and I’ve done my best to fulfil it.

Lisa Orgler February 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Anne – I just found your site a few days ago and am so delighted! I see that you are entering the next phase of your “blogging life” and I am excited for you. Commercial sponsors are great for those of us that love gardening…anywhere I can purchase more garden-related ephemera is always a good thing. Your blog is now offering more resources…a very good thing. I look forward to many more lovely articles (and neat garden business sponsors). Best wishes.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm

That’s a great and very encouraging perspective, Lisa. I like it. Thank you.

James Golden February 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Perhaps because I’m an American I sense something like political intrigue and conspiracy here. That’s an exaggeration, but the dark, unexplained workings of the RHS don’t do their image any good. I’d like to subscribe to The Garden, but the RHS will only let me have it if I become a member. I’ve tried that, but it makes the cost of the publication very high; since I live 3000 miles away, I lose most of the benefits of membership. An organization really concerned about all things horticultural and gardening should cast a wider net, and consider the needs of more people–such as the people who want thinkingardens to continue. They can easily afford that measly stipend.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I have taken explanations at face value and try not to get paranoid, but it is true that the RHS do behave strangely.

Give us 200 years and thinkingardens will have taken over from them, don’t you think? We certainly already have the wider reach and greater accessibility!

Melissa Jolly February 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Hi Anne,

I am relatively new to ‘Thinking Gardens’ – I don’t know how I missed it. So far it has been informative, provocative, and obviously read by a broad and knowledgeable audience who value the honesty and ability to discuss relevant issues. Having read the comments above there is no doubt that the site and your hard work are much appreciated and I am sure you will continue to do well. Well done Everegde – I am sure others will follow suit.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Thank you Melissa, and glad you found us.

Nigel Rogers February 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

Reading these responses should ease the anxiety caused by the lack of a dignified response from The RHS, it shows that the existence of thinkinGardens is treasured by the gardening community. Thanks for you’re continued commitment to a wonderful platform.

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

It does help – truth is, I was feeling a bit slapped in the face – but these responses are so cheering and confidence building. Thank you for taking the trouble and it does help so much.

Dawn Isaac February 28, 2012 at 11:27 am

Anne – I’m so sorry to hear about this. What a shock to have the funding taken away so abruptly. However, I have no doubt you will make this work – with or without the RHS!

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

You’re right! (rolls up sleeves..) Thanks!

DublinBayRose February 28, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hi Anne

That is a real shame, but i suppose we should thank the RHS for seeing an excellent idea off the ground.

I know you have given it a vast amount of your time, energy and enthusiasm – which has resulted in an excellent website/blog/resource/social hub. I think the project has enough momentum to continue and prosper, so fingers crossed for more top companies like EverEdge! Are we showing them enough love do you think 🙂

Don’t be afraid to ask for help Anne – people value ThinkinGardens and will be happy to contribute, financial or otherwise…

Very best wishes

Debbie

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

Thank you, Debbie – I am feeling very encouraged by these kind messages! On and Upward!!

Petra Hoyer Millar February 28, 2012 at 9:57 am

Anne, I agree with Susan. In the web trade, most apps are free, designer by some very clever people. Many are funded ‘donations’ by grateful users of their applications. Donations can be anyting from a couple of pence to larger amounts, but all well received. You could do something similar, in addition to advertising. Congratulations to EverEdge for seeing a sound commercial opportunity, advertising to a targeted audience of true garden(ing) enthusiasts. I love EverEdge!
p.s. I wonder Anne, did you use the same excellent marketing skills such as those on Veddw?

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 10:00 am

I truly will consider donations, Petra and Susan. (what marketing skills??!! I have marketing skills???)

Liz Dobbs February 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

This website does offer something different, I find it informative, thought-provoking and recently there have been some good debate. It would be such shame to stop now – I’m sure you could fund it from advertising, readers etc

annewareham February 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

I’m going to do my best.

Susan in the Pink Hat February 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I’ve said it before—put up a button for readers to contribute. I’d be happy to pay for continuing content.

annewareham February 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm

One step at a time (she said, nervously) – and thank you, Susan !

Joanne Neild February 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Anne,

It is awful that The RHS have taken the funding from you in such an abrupt manner, without so much as a bye or leave they have dropped a project that whilst still entertaining to gardeners, has also opened many interesting debates on gardens and its role as an artform.

I am however, delighted that it will continue with the support of people who understand how important it is to keep going.

May this new partnership bring many long and fruitful years and discussions. The RHS’s loss is certainly Everedge’s gain.

annewareham February 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Thank you -that is heart warming.

Emmon February 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Dear Anne – I just read your email. I’m so sorry to hear it! I think your site is absolutely unique. I haven’t seen anything remotely close to it in terms of really discussing issues. I often have to slow down my “eye browsing speed” and read much more carefully. It’s like reading great literature. More thoughts in fewer words. And always worth it!

Congratulations on what you and everyone you work with has achieved!

A total fan,
Emmon

annewareham February 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thank you – and it’s our amazing contributors we have to thank.

Glad you’re enjoying and hope you will continue to do so. AW

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