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2015 Baltimore Perennial Plant Association (PPA) symposium. (L-R): Ed Snodgrass, Mary Vaananen, Georg Uebelhart, Allen Bush and Mary Anne Thornton.


This is the first of a two-part series on the decline of plant societies and garden clubs. Tomorrow, Scott Beuerlein explains how to dig out of the hole.


Many of us who garden, and who benefit from garden group gatherings, have kept quiet about the decline of plant society and garden club memberships. We don’t like to talk about our sense of loss. We feel the same as we did when our teenagers came home two hours late after curfew. We scolded the kids to little avail and kept quiet about it with others. We didn’t want the neighbors across the street to call Child Protective Services.

2006 PPA at Expo Flora Montréal.

It’s hard to predict what will happen to most of these plant groups in ten years. Maybe gardeners will cloister again behind a monastery wall, sow seeds and preserve plant species. After all, the Gingko, extinct in the wild, was preserved near Asian temples.

The Guardian recently published an article, Are Plant Societies on the Verge of Extinction? This exposed what many of us knew already but were afraid to admit.

2004 New York PPA with Janet Draper and Simple.

I am a member of at least ten plant-related organizations. Of these, I am most invested in the Perennial Plant Association (PPA). Being in the perennial business, I have been going to their annual meetings since they started, over 35 years ago.

I can’t attend every plant society or garden club meeting, of course. I have discontinued membership in a handful of groups. More are likely to follow as I edge toward 70.

But I’m sad that these societies and clubs are finding it hard to maintain their equilibrium. I love the quarterlies, seed exchanges and especially the one-on-one, real-time, in-person camaraderie when gardeners gather.

2004 New York PPA with Karen Skoglund.

In depth, if you want to take it to the Rocky Mountain tree line and back down to Tierra del Fuego? Look to the North American Rock Garden Society.

I’m happy at home. Kentucky Native Plant Society is a favorite, even though I am only remotely involved. I have not been to any Wildflower Weekends, but I value their information. I never pass up their Facebook posts: lots of beautiful trilliums, wild gingers and lady’s slippers.

2007 Columbus, OH PPA with Wolfgang Oehme and Carol Oppenheimer.

I am still holding my breath that more millennials will pick up their hoes. The time may not be quite ripe. We’re having difficulty attracting young professional horticulturists, according to the Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post:

Social media, with its many frivolous temptations, has altered the playing field for plant societies and garden clubs. I scroll through a lot of cuddly baby pictures on Facebook before I get to anything closely related to plants and gardens. Still, there is digital garden good out there.

2008 Philadelphia PPA at Simple’s previous space in time. The nighttime is the right time.

Here are few sites worth checking out.

I love Plant Idents on Facebook. This Stump the Chumps for plant geeks almost always unearths someone in the plant universe who knows the plant, however obscure. There’s even a separate Plant Idents 101 for basic identification.

I like Instagram for occasional, great photos of gardens and plant combinations.

2012 Boston PPA with Janet Draper and David Sanford at Tower Hill.

I follow very few blogs (who has the time?) but I seldom miss Prairie Break. Panayoti Kelaidis is brilliant, prolific and down to earth. I also like Native Plant Podcast hosted by John Magee and Mike Berkley. Keep a cold beer handy. And don’t miss Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden Podcast. This is where you’ll find “horticultural how-to and woo-woo.” And for curated garden videos, look no further. The Garden Rant’s own Susan Harris finds the best Good Gardening Videos.

2014 Cincinnati PPA with Laura Deeter and Denise Adams.

Do you have a favorite social media-gathering place for gardening? Is it a fun diversion, or do you really learn and meet people?

However provocative it is, social media doesn’t bestow the tent revival come-to-Jesus excitement that a gathering of passionate gardeners can generate in person.

2016 Minneapolis PPA goes to dinner at Tangletown Farm.

Next July I am going to the 35th annual symposium of the Perennial Plant Association in Denver, Colorado. There are more great gardens, nurseries, “Coloradical!” plantspeople and enthusiasm here than anywhere on earth. Plus the Rocky Mountains are filled with summer wildflowers.

Coloradicals—Pat Hayward, Mike Bone and Diane Reavis—make the pitch for the 2017 Denver PPA symposium.

There’s nothing digital that compares to walking through a beautiful garden or along a mountain trail.

I wouldn’t miss this fun week for anything.

Posted by

Allen Bush
on December 28, 2016 at 7:38 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, What’s Happening.