May 13, 2008
The R.H.S. is evolving at a dizzying rate these days. It has to, of course, to keep up with a world that spins faster every year. I sometimes wonder, though, if in its headlong expansion it risks losing sight of the quiet pleasures that attract so many gardeners. Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, reacted to the arrival of the first Golden Arches in Rome, with a boom worthy of his friend Pavarotti. ‘Food,’ he thundered, ‘should be slow’ – and pronounced it ZLOOOOOW. Gardening, too. Slow means tranquil, private, considered, personal, uncompetitive, contemplative…….. all the unfashionable adjectives you can think of. Show gardens are one thing; showing off is what they do. Private gardens exist to nourish the soul of an individual.
Does the R.H.S. recognize that among its members there are many (how many?) whose love of plants and nurturing them is a lifelong affair, going far beyond fashion? Its earlier members (earlier than the 1980s) used to be called Fellows, until that came to seem an inflated appellation for every recruit.
Wouldn’t it be an apt recognition, though, for those who remain loyal to the Society for, let’s say, 20 years? Seniority, you may say, proves nothing. Some of us will be ignorant and idle however long we live. Perhaps Fellowship should be earned in some more demanding way. It will always be a very long way from the Victoria Medal of Honour, which is held by only 63 outstandingly distinguished gardeners at any one time. There is such a thing as Honorary Fellowship, awarded to a select few. It seems a pity, though, for the concept of Fellowship of what remains, at least in part, a learned Society should go by default.