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May 2011

Time to vote on RHS Council's 'storm in ladies' teacups'

The excitement of Chelsea has finished for another year but the post mortems will carry on for a while. The gardening twitterati are still talking about the fact that all the garden judges were men. If you're a member of the RHS, it's time to vote for the Council members. If you're like me, you've probably not bothered to vote in the past, flicking quickly passed the AGM notice in The Garden.

But this year, please don't throw it in the bin. It's been a long, hard fight to get women on to the RHS Council as the following story about Frances Perry's election from Gardening Women illustrates.

"By the late 1960s, despite the fact that women were now being awarded many of the prestigious RHS medals, there was still no female representation on the society’s council. At the Annual General Meeting of the RHS in 1967 a question was raised as to why this was so. Because, came the answer, there had never been ladies on the council and there were none ‘at present’ who had ‘as useful experience as the men available’. Within days. Enid Bagnold, the writer famous for National Velvet and The Chalk Garden had a letter published in The Times quoting this and suggesting that Gertrude Jekyll must be rolling in her grave...

"Lord Aberconway, then president of the RHS and scion of Bodnant, retorted that this was a ‘little storm in ladies’ teacups’ and that he had been misquoted. ‘We have nothing against the ladies,’ he blustered. ‘As soon as a lady comes to our minds or is suggested informally . . . who can contribute in our view as much as to our multifarious activities as any man available, we shall support her appointment.’ A year later a suitable candidate was elected unopposed: Mrs Frances Perry. When asked to join the council, Perry famously replied: ‘If you want me because I’m a woman, the answer is no, but if you want me because of anything I have done in horticulture, the answer is yes.’

"... the president was at pains to point out, Perry arrived as no token woman. ‘I must emphasize that she was nominated by Council not because she was a women, but because she was, in the unanimous view
of us all . . . more likely than any others to contribute to the works of Council . . . Indeed, it was only because our invitation was couched in those terms that she accepted the nomination.’ With the ‘little storm in ladies’ teacups’ dealt with, Perry went on to make an enormous contribution to the Society, being awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1971 and eventually becoming a vice-president."

Forty-five years later, there are now three women on the Council and a fourth, The Hon Sarah Joiner, is standing again and needs your vote.

Photo 2010(1)

Sarah is a member of the Bursaries, Libraries, Daffodil & Tulip and Fundraising Committees. With a background in the NHS and Department of Health, she is now also Chairman of Trustees for the Gardening for the Disabled Trust and active Patron of the MS Trust. With seven candidates standing for five places on the RHS Council, every vote counts. Please give one of yours to Sarah.