November 25, 2008

What Plant Societies Need to Do to Survive

My prototype for a modernized, yet very classic looking Journal design for the North American Rock Garden Society.

A website design, for a modern plant society which offers more than just meeting dates.

After a lively discussion online two weeks ago on the Alpine-L user group, an online group dedicated to discussions and chat about alpine plants, woodland plants and bulbs, among other things; a recent thread emerged that raised the fact that many, if not all specialist plant groups are experiencing a drop in membership. There surely are many reasons for this, ranging from a busier world, to other options either on-line or lifestyle changes. Regardless, I had suggested that one way some plant groups could increase membership is to revise what they offer. The Scottish Rock Garden Society is a great example, their website offers blogs, posts, membership and photos. So I decided to go out on a dangerous limb, and design what a potential site could look like for the North American version of the Scottish group. Many of you know that my day job involves designing intellectual property, managing mega brands and inventing new portals for these brands. I am not a web designer, but I am a graphic designer, so note that these comps are created in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop - they would undoubtedly be expensive websites to construct, but I wanted to make a few points.

First, becoming more modern does not mean that you would need to stop printing a journal, we all love paper. Second, manhy of us are on-line already, and we exercise our plant passions in different ways - I have a blog on blogger, I post images on Flicker, I use YouTube daily, and I know that there are other NARGS members on Flicker and Youtube - I link to them. So I am already chatting, and linking to others on line. I am not alone.

Think about it. You take digital photos, you may even take videos on your travels, or of your garden. You already are on-line, or you would not be reading this. I web site, and a society, are very similar - they are social places, so how terrific would it be if the ultimate plant society site evolved, someone will do it someday - but the question is who will lead?

There are many issues here to overcome, there are issues about heritage, about if perhaps should a group of plant societies join together ) Primrose, Androsace, Saxifrage, Bulb Groups, Rock Garden Society, etc) to become one mega-site. But whatever happens, I only hope that someone takes a step soon. As members, we all want to enjoy our membership. A publication on paper is fine, and in digital worlds, this can happen is different ways, a downloadable PDF file, or an iPhone sized mini newsletter - technology is becoming more integrated every day, and experts are saying that in four years, we will al be fully converted - which is expected to change how advertising to political campaigning works - the Obama campaign is already looking at four years from now, and how they will focus on cell phone advertising with videos. One of the greatest issues is WHO will manage these sites, who will design and maintain them, much needs to be considered, and I realize that it is not easy. There are non profit groups who have restructured and who have incredible web sites and more - take the National Geographic Society, now known as NatGeo. Advertising subsidizes the website, with links to travel, hiking, outdoor outfitters, and camera companies. Modern groups license their name, offer product such as backpacks, logo merchandise if it is designed nicely, but these are all attainable goals. The world is changing fast.

Whatever all of our plant societies do, I only hope that they remain open to change, to technology, and realize that these too are changing fast. But wouldn't it be nice to have a site where you could download a document in excel where you can organize your collections, where you can post photos of your gardens, or videos of your successes. OF course, these sort of site would require significant restructuring, an editor may need to be subsidized, or an initial cost for design and architecture may need to be spent up front ( another reason for sites to join in some idea of a Global Plant Society home page), where costs could be shared), whatever happens, modern plant groups have a long road ahead if they want to survive - they need to offer more, be more informed and offer more value.


  1. I think you are right. Specialized and even local garden groups are all struggling to maintain (if not increase) membership. I'm an older gardener but I'm blogging, following garden blogs and have been ordering on-line for ever. I had not really thought about this until you brought it up, but now that you mention it, it's a pretty obvious direction. And with the level of design of the prototypes you've put together, it would be worth it to an organization to pay what it costs. I think it would be a magnet for visitors and new members. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. (And those nerines are stunning!)

  2. I too have to agree with the above comments. How fantastic it would be to access a number of garden websites under one.

    Will it ever happen? I think there would be too much resistance from the "old guard". It would be nice to be wrong.

    Last, I too have to comment on your blog. I so enjoy it, and now have a few more "must have" on the list thanks to you!

  3. Excellent suggestions, Matt, on what plant societies need to do to survive and modernize!

    The North American Clivia Society has taken your advice to heart! We've recently updated our website. It can be found at www.northamericancliviasoceity.org.

    We've also "gone green" and have all our quarterly newsletters online. We are also allowing members to opt out of receiving the paper copy. Instead, they will receive a notification when the newsletter is available. This, in turn, will drive traffic to our website.

    Thanks for the suggestions & inspiration!

    Malcolm Shrimplin
    NACS "Clivia Quarterly" Editor & Board Member

  4. As a garden enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for ways to create that special atmosphere one experiences in the gardens of Provence and Tuscany. Recently I found a wonderful resource in West Palm Beach, Florida: Authentic Provence (http://authenticprovence.com). Walk into this oasis of calm, and you will see what I think is the finest collection of European garden antiques available in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, and on and on. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. The staff is very adept at finding that special item, and in arranging shipping to anywhere in the USA. Definitely worth a visit, AND there is a great coffee shop across the street!


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