Growing closer – gardening clubs root friendships

Just grab a spade to join this social networking site

A growing number of gardeners are building their lives around their hobby, using the pretext of swapping gardening tips as a plausible excuse for a night out, says the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Almost as many people join gardening clubs for the social get-togethers – 68 per cent – as the 70 per cent that cite learning about cultivation, according to a new survey from the RHS. Hundreds of gardening clubs and allotment societies have affiliated to the RHS since 2009, with a rise of more than 10 per cent, from 2,800 in 2009 to 3,100 today. And half of gardening clubs have seen an increase in membership in the past year, according to the charity. Almost a quarter of a million Britons now belong to some form of gardening club, in a boom that is a much motivated by a desire to socialise as it is by a wish to grow their own or, as the artist Francis Bacon put it, pursuing the "purest of human pleasures".

September is traditionally a busy time in the gardening calendar, tidying up after the summer, pruning, harvesting vegetables and planting spring flowering bulbs. But while the growing season is coming to an end, with just a couple of weeks left, the popularity of gardening clubs is continuing to grow.

And it's not only people of a certain age squaring up to one another over the size of their marrows. The traditional gardening club of years gone by, largely the preserve of retired middle-class folk, is changing. Almost a third of members are aged between 40 and 60.

Stephanie Eynon, the Royal Horticultural Society's community horticulture manager, said: "I know it all sounds a bit like an advert for a dating agency, but gardening clubs really do offer excellent social benefits – monthly meetings, day trips out, annual events and even holidays abroad."

Another reason for the surge in popularity is the drive by cash-strapped Britons to save money by growing their own, she added: "Increasing numbers of people have been joining gardening clubs and allotment societies since the economic downturn. This appears to be a cyclical trend, with the number of gardening clubs peaking in the decade after the Second World War and during the financial gloom of the 1970s. People turn to gardening for something certain and sustainable in life, and to grow food to save money when times are difficult."

One of the new breed of people using gardening clubs as an excuse to socialise is Lou Johnson, a 44-year-old former fashion designer who wanted to "pursue this hobby in a way that was sociable and fun", and so she set up a club when she returned to her home village of Blunsdon in Wiltshire. "Everyone is knowledgeable about different aspects of gardening, but nobody takes it too seriously," she said.

And 41-year-old Teresa Strange, a married mother of two who helped set up the Melksham Gardeners' Society three years ago, said: "We go on picnics, meet for drinks and nibbles and visit gardens as a group ... people use the group as a social thing and a way to make new friends. You don't even need to have a garden to come along. I think it is part of a bigger trend, with more people using gardening as a means to socialise."

Like those joining arts and crafts societies, knitting circles and book clubs, people are using gardening as an excuse to get together as part of a wider trend in multitasking in their increasingly scare spare time, according to Dr Almuth McDowall, a psychology lecturer at the University of Surrey.

"People are increasingly choosing to multitask with the small amount of free time they have, linking social activities to other tasks," she said.

Anne Metcalfe, 66

Anne, co-founder of Mickleton Young Gardeners in Gloucestershire

"We began with eight children and one third of an allotment. Today, we have more than 22 children coming each week to help cultivate two full allotments. We are a gardening club primarily focused on helping children to experience growing their own produce. At first, the club caused anxiety among the older generation at the allotment, worried by the prospect of children trampling everywhere, but in time they have now come on board. Today, we are a very active club, meeting once a week. We try and make the club fun, making scarecrows, having Easter egg hunts, and at the end of the season carving pumpkins, organising a big bonfire and a barbecue."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower