A letter with signatories including organic gardeners Bob Flowerdew, Joy Larkcom and Alys Fowler, vegan grower Iain Tolhurst and former Garden Organic head gardeners Sue Stickland and Julian Stanley asks the charity’s trustees not to sell the gardens, ‘which have historic, educational and environmental value and have great meaning for many people, both local and from further afield.’
The letter is also signed by Garden Organic’s former directors Alan and Jackie Gear, who have also issued their own statement opposing the plans. The Gears joined the charity in 1974 and, with founder Lawrence Hills, established its Ryton headquarters in 1985. They recall that, ‘activities at Ryton, with the gardens themselves at the centre, drew a huge amount of publicity, and HDRA [the original name for Garden Organic] was rarely out of the news… We were interviewed hundreds of times for national and local television and radio about the organisation’s work. By 2002, Ryton was attracting 100,000 visitors in total to the site each year.’
However, 2002 was the year that the Gears left Garden Organic. Ryton visitors have now fallen to 8,000 a year, and the current management says that the gardens are no longer economic to run, and are limiting the charity’s potential to promote organic gardening in other ways. The Gears acknowledge that to some extent, this is because Garden Organic has been a victim of its own success – organic gardening is now on show in gardens across the country – but they say, ‘Ryton Organic Gardens should surely be protected because of its historically important environmental contribution, because its soil is still a haven for wildlife and genetic diversity and because there is still a huge job to do in showing future generations how to garden organically.’
Meanwhile, tensions between the two sides have escalated after Garden Organic ambassador Bob Flowerdew made public a conversation with chief executive James Campbell suggesting that the charity is in serious financial trouble. In a tweet, Bob Flowerdew said, ‘I have been approached by James Campbell who has told me the trustees have no alternative to selling the land and if ‘we’ persist in ‘Save Ryton gardens’ they will go broke by Christmas and will close with loss of everything. I am appalled and at a loss as to best action to follow.’
Garden Organic has refuted this, saying, ‘The charity isn’t in immediate financial difficulty, however, in the longer term, we believe it will be if proactive action is not taken to stem the running costs of the whole Ryton site… The Trustees signed off a deficit budget for 2017 and again for 2018, at which point they acknowledged that we needed to review our income and expenditure.’
Read Garden Organic’s full statement, and answers to other questions about the ‘current review process’, at https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news/ryton-gardens-april-2018 and follow the campaign to save the gardens at https://saverytongardens.com/Enjoy more Kitchen Garden reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.