The NARGS annual general meeting, hosted by the Great Lakes chapter, was held at Weber’s Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 7-10, 2015. Members who attended the meeting had nothing but high praise for the organizers, who kept the conference flowing smoothly to the enjoyment of all of us.
Vendors had a wonderful selection of plants from the region for sale. I was tempted to buy a Cypripedium seedling but thought that the price of $45.00 was too high considering my slim chance of successfully growing it in my garden. There was a silent auction, a display of big tufa rocks, a book sale, lots of door prizes, and a lottery with many great items to win.
Evening receptions gave an opportunity for social mingling with old and new friends over a glass of wine or beer. The sound of people having a good time could be heard way down the hallways of the hotel and produced much curiosity.
After dinner evening programs were outstanding. The photos were exceptional, taken by experienced and passionate rock gardeners chasing alpines in mountains all over the world. The first speaker was Tony Resnicek of the Great Lakes chapter, who spoke on the topic “Michigan Landscape and Gardening in It”. He started his talk by stating “Michigan is flat as a pancake, with some areas less flat”. In the subsequent slides he showed how you can overcome this limitation on growing alpines. “We gardeners' take advantage of what we have and work with it” he said.
The beautiful garden tours, including Tony’s own, demonstrated nicely how one can overcome adverse conditions imposed by local topography and climate.
Tony was followed by Ger van den Beuken from Holland, an enthusiastic and dedicated rock gardener who has traveled extensively in search of rare alpine plants. His talk on "Argentina and Chile in 50 Minutes," covered the landscapes and their flora in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia and central and northern Chile, including the Atacama Desert at 13,000 ft. elevation. His array of 156 slides highlighted the many varieties of cushion plants that grow in these regions.
Ger was on the program again next evening with a talk titled "Growing High Alpines at Sea Level or Below". His slides depicted his successes—and many failures—in starting these mostly cushion plants from seed and growing them to full bloom. He was forthright in telling us about his many failures, and indeed he had plenty of them. He showed us about 23 species of the Daphne genus, about 18 species of Oxalis, 20 species of Primulas, and many species in his total of 107 slides. He struck me as a serious experimenter who did not give up easily.
Last but not least, the stage was set for Malcolm McGregor a showman with a flair for drama. For 30 years he has kept his audiences amused and fully awake as he lectures on literature as well as on alpine plants and gardening. Malcolm is a world authority on saxifrages, the “rock splitting” plants, and the author of a beautifully illustrated book, Saxifrages: The Definitive Guide to 2000 Species, Hybrids & Cultivars, published in 2008. He wrapped up the meeting on the third evening with his talk on "Rock Gardening – or What's a Heaven For?” Malcolm's presentation was inspired by the challenge that all lowland-gardeners confront. How do we successfully grow plants that are native to high mountains and survive under severe weather conditions in garden settings that are totally alien to them? How we deal with that problem is an essential part of what we do as rock gardeners, he said. (Malcolm will give a slide presentation to the Siskiyou chapter in April 2016 as part of his AGS speaker tour.)
All in all, the quality of the speakers and their beautiful slides were beyond the best - really amazing.
During the next two days we were bussed around to five beautiful gardens and two natural areas, the Pickerel Lake Sand Barrens and Sharon Hollow - Nan Weston Preserve of the Nature Conservancy. Alex and Lillian Maksymowicz will give a slide presentation on these tours at the November 2015 chapter meeting.
Thursday May 7 I spent the day in meetings devoted to NARGS business. The meeting of the Chapter Chairs took place in the morning, and after lunch we convened again for the Board of Directors meeting.
The business portion of the Ann Arbor meeting was really a continuation of last year’s Santa Fe meeting, where the principal issues were NARGS declining membership and the attendant budgetary problems. The primary problem is that among the 39 NARGS chapters the membership has fallen from about 4000 members in 1999 to 2,900 in 2014. Essentially this drastic decline means that NARGS cannot survive on its present course longer than 3 more years. Therefore the future of NARGS depends on the degree of participation by its chapters. Chapters need to promote the value of NARGS to their members. There needs to be better communication between NARGS and its chapters, as well as between the chapters. The question was raised: Should chapter members be required also to become members of NARGS? The consensus was that they should not.
Matt Mattus, president of NARGS, opened the chapter chairs meeting with his vision of how NARGS can restore itself over the next five years by using social media to advertise itself and thereby gain exposure to the broader gardening community. NARGS website could have a portal to offer content and various products of interest to a rock gardener. Basically he wants to revamp NARGS by forming 50 task forces that will deal with every aspect of NARGS to improve its activities.
Next on the Agenda was a session for Chapter Chairs. For the first time chapter chairs got to hold discussions on many topics of concern to them and to share them with other chapter chairs and NARGS directors. This demonstrated how chapters can get more involved in solving problems together in an effective way. Some of the topics covered were actually complaints. For example, the website is way too difficult to navigate and needs to be more user-friendly. We need instructions for utilizing the site for chapters to share news items and perhaps post articles about gardening and nature. The cost of attending the Annual General meetings should be lower. Workshop weekends should be made affordable to more members.
In the Directors' meeting the raising of membership dues became a hotly discussed subject. In the end though, there was approval to raise the dues by $10. One of the reasons mentioned was the fact that the dues had not been raised in 10 years even though everything else seems to have become more expensive. Malcolm McGregor proposed that as a means of raising money NARGS begin to offer travel to exotic places using the model of Alpine Garden Society of supplying their own expert guides, then hiring a tour operator such as Greentours to take care of the travel arrangements. The income part is that AGS takes a cut of the cost of the tour. Last year AGS made something like $30,000 from its tours. The idea was easily approved, and Malcolm now chairs a committee to set up tours of interest to rock gardeners. He needs many more volunteers to join him especially if you have any experience in the travel industry.
The Annual Meeting at Steamboat Springs in June, 2016 will be held at Colorado Mountain College campus and options for inexpensive motel rooms, dorm rooms or camping are available.