Tough times for Garden Organic

Some 10 per cent of staff made redundant as charity aims to rebalance its national expenditure.

Ryton Gardens: the centre is home to Garden Organic headquarters
Ryton Gardens: the centre is home to Garden Organic headquarters

Garden Organic is shedding 10 per cent of staff and allowing one-tenth of its gardens to go to seed after hitting financial difficulties.

The charity has lost four staff including director Bret Willers and long-serving head gardener Andy Strachan. It is closing the David Austin Roses organic garden as well as other areas in a bid to save £100,000.

Chief executive James Campbell, who moved from Earthwatch Institute to take over from Myles Bremner in November 2013, said many visitors to Garden Organic's 4ha headquarters garden at Ryton Gardens in Warwickshire do not realise it is organic at all, and therefore it does not meet the 50-year-old charity's brief.

"You can go on Google and get 80 per cent of the information you need so really the incentive to join us is because people support the cause," said Campbell.

"Our gardens at Ryton over the years have had an emphasis on being attractive gardens to visit but not enough emphasis on the organic nature of the gardens. There's an assumption visitors would know we're organic, but we've not put the message across as clearly as we could."

Campbell explained that he cut garden staff from the equivalent of five full-time gardeners to just over three, adding: "We wanted to spend less on that part of our charitable aims."

He said a member survey showed Garden Organic is spending "a disproportionate amount of income on Ryton to the detriment of national activities so we made the decision to rebalance and spend less at Ryton and more on other charitable aims".

Campbell added: "When Ryton was created (in 1985) we were the only place in the country where you could see organic gardening. Now there's a vast number of organic gardens that people can see. We've had fewer visitors because it's not necessary for people to come to Ryton."

The charity will campaign more on areas such as pollinators and neonicotinoids as well as proposed EU plant reproductive material laws, which are a "threat to organic seeds". He said: "That's the sort of thing our members want us to do."

He admitted "one or two demonstration gardens" would go and the overall gardens would be 90 per cent of what they were. "The David Austin rose garden has not been a great success to demonstrate how to grow roses organically, so we'll have roses in mixed ornamental planting," added Campbell.

HEAD COUNT STAFF NUMBERS SET TO FALL

Ryton visitor numbers were 18,000 in 2013, up from 14,000 in 2012, after peaking at 30,000 in 2000. In 2014, the gardens will have free entry on Sundays.

Chief executive James Campbell said membership is 28,000 including 8,000 Heritage Seed Library members, having "lost five per cent over the recession". He said he inherited a deficit from his predecessor in 2011 but is turning that around with the cuts. "Garden Organic is making a 20 per cent reduction in the amount Ryton costs as a proportion of turnover."

Overall staff numbers will fall to 45 full-time equivalents, with four staff being shed.


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