RHS Harlow Carr – Corporate or Charity?

The Northern Horticultural Society based in Harrogate was in a bit of state in 2001 when it was subsumed by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The grounds at Harlow Carr could have benefited from more investment but what garden couldn’t? Still the RHS had the muscle to boss the ‘merger’ and take the lead in changing Harlow Carr.

I volunteered for a few years but progressively became less impressed with the political nature of the RHS. To a volunteer it appeared to be run very much as a business but with some of the waste and excesses of poor organisation. On my Gardeners Tips website during 2017 I posted the following comments:

‘Negatives or ‘What The RHS is not Good For’

  • As a charity benefiting from the tax breaks and ‘public’ support is it fulfilling all the requirements to enjoy this support.
  • The society has £96 million held in cash and investments which is well in excess of the annual income of £73m. Even bearing in mind the new garden in Salford this seems excessively conservative.
  • On one level the RHS is a glee club for the county and wanabee set. Evidenced by all the luvvies at Chelsea where social climbers out number horticultural climbers and scramblers.
  • There is an appearance of commercial and personal vested interests & cliquishness.
  • The Chatsworth flower show could be renamed a clothes show with flowers.
  • My experience as a volunteer at the RHS was frustrating due to the corporate ethos and management of the time (2005-2009).’

Humble Pie New Thoughts

  • Compared to other charities and public organisations RHS have avoided negative publicity. They have not fallen into ‘woke’ and culture issues that detract from the core purpose unlike the National Trust, Oxfam or Education establishments.
  • The Harlow Carr grounds continue to improve every year and are a gem in the Yorkshire gardening tradition.
  • In 20 years much has been achieved with buildings and extensions to the facilities. If that was at a cost to old traditionalists then so be it, we await the next decade with more anticipation.
  • During the 2020 Covid crisis members have had as many opportunities as could have safely been made available.
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