Join a plant society to learn new things about plants and share your own knowledge; and check out the American Rhododendron Society's sale Saturday at Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton.
I recently attended the annual Meeting of the Magnolia Society International held in Rhode Island. The inclusion of our personal garden and our garden center on their "post tour" after the main meeting had finished was particularly gratifying.
MSI has a membership of nearly 600 people from dozens of countries, and about 80 attended this meeting. As always at gatherings like this, I came away invigorated by the experiences and encouraged with the high level of enthusiasm of the participants. It's was such a refreshing change from the predictable standardization that seems to be permeating so many aspects of our lives today.
There are plant societies and associations for virtually every type of plant imaginable -- from African violet, azalea, bamboo, cactus and succulent, clematis, conifer, crabapple, cycad, fern, fuchsia, gloxinia and gesneriads, hemerocallis, holly, hosta, hydrangea, iris, ivy, lilac, lily, magnolia, maple, oak, orchid, penstemon, peony, plumeria, primrose, rhododendron and rose to wildflower -- and others I haven't listed. Many of them include members from other regions, and some are international in scope, drawing in members from all over the world. Without exception, the members who join these groups add a dimension of focus for participants that would be unachievable without these specialized organizations.
In addition to the camaraderie at meetings, plant societies offer unexcelled opportunities to meet interesting people and broaden your perspectives. Members tend to be "regular" people who have careers outside horticulture but share a passion for the particular genus. Generosity seems to be a natural trait for horticulturists, so plant societies offer the perfect opportunity for sharing. Members typically offer their own personal stories about propagation and culture and are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experiences with other members.
Societies can provide an astounding menu of benefits for members. Most offer information about new plants and cultivars, along with first-hand updates on the most current developments in the genus, often through personal connections with the most knowledgeable experts. Many arrange for distribution of plants and cuttings and have seed exchange programs, and some publish a periodic journal of interest to members written by members and other experts in the genus. They often maintain a members-only website, offer tours and opportunities to visit private gardens rarely available to outsiders.
Plant societies frequently employ a paid executive to oversee the administrative aspects of the organization. But programs are generally run by volunteers who unselfishly donate their time and energy, applying their specialized skills for the benefit of the membership. And because the majority of the work of the society is handled by volunteers, membership dues tend to be exceptionally reasonable. You'll often see volunteer leaders enthusiastically utilizing their particular knowledge in finance, marketing, legal, information management and other expertise to help the society achieve its purpose. Volunteers commonly consider their plant society leadership service to be among the most gratifying times of their lives.
Do you have a compelling passion for a particular type of plant? If so, you might consider becoming a member of that plant society -- it could be a most rewarding experience!
I am also a member of the American Rhododendron Society. With thousands of members worldwide, the ARS Massachusetts Chapter is one of the largest, with more than 400 members, and tomorrow the group is holding its annual plant sale at Weston Nurseries garden center in Hopkinton. Many ARS members will be on hand to discuss growing and enjoying this varied family of plants that perform so well in New England, and offer some of the best practical advice drawing upon their actual experiences.
R. Wayne Mezitt is a third-generation nurseryman, a Massachusetts certified horticulturist and chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, www.WestonNurseries.com. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, the New England Nursery Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association, based in Washington, D.C.