Horticulture wars – tempers still running high in local society

Images above: Henry Gewanter; Dennis Flaherty

The Chiswick Horticultural & Allotment Society has found itself in the middle of an incendiary leadership battle, one born out of an ‘unpleasant atmosphere of growing unrest’ between members.

In February, The Chiswick Calendar reported there had been ‘heated, emotional and bitter rows’ between members of the society. These arguments came to public notice when the incumbent Chairman, Henry Gewanter, put out an appeal in an email to the entire membership of several hundred members for an end to the ‘unacceptable levels of rudeness’.

The society is now holding elections for chairman and the previous Allotments Secretary Denis Flaherty has launched his own leadership bid, campaigning against Mr Gewanter for failing to deal with the ongoing situation.

Mr Flaherty claims there is still ‘discontent, upset and even anger’ at both the committee level and amongst the wider membership because of the continuing toxic attitude permeating debate within the group.

Image above: a member of the CHAS pushing a wheelbarrow

Julian Tanner, effectively Mr Flaherty’s campaign manager, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“Many members are relieved to know that the former Allotments Secretary, Dennis Flaherty, is hoping to be elected the new CHAS chairman and is standing against Henry”.

Since November 2020, three committee members have resigned with another allegedly being forced out. Two more committee members have threatened to resign if Mr Gewanter is re-elected for another term when the group gathers for their annual general meeting on 25 April.

The society’s members keep allotments beside the cemetery opposite Chiswick School on Staveley Rd and operate a trading hut there. Henry Gewanter has been the society’s Treasurer and then Chairman for around 15 years.

Dennis Flaherty has been the Allotment Secretary for the past six years, writes the Society’s weekly newsletter and is on hand at the Trading hut on Sundays to answer allotment queries. His role includes assisting members with rent payments, membership renewals, as well as hands on matters such as key changes and padlock repairs.

Henry Gewanter says under his leadership the membership has grown significantly. Dennis Flaherty says he has let over 150 plots that had either lain derelict or had not been cultivated for several years and it is this which has enabled a large increase in CHAS membership from just under 300 to approximately 600.

The charity’s objectives are the promotion and furtherance of the art, science and practice of horticulture. It was founded over 100 years ago as the Chiswick Allotment Holders Association. It is run entirely by volunteers: the committee, the allotment site reps, the greenhouse and catering teams and the trading hut volunteers.

Images above: Flower close-ups by Mark Lawson

‘Transparency, inclusiveness, respect and helpfulness’

Mr. Flaherty says he hopes to restore core values of honesty and respect to the organisation.

If elected, Mr. Flaherty’s manifesto claims he will publish accurate minutes of meetings, allow for members’ issues to be represented at committee meetings, ensure everyone will have a voice – returning to the society’s ‘original values of respect and politeness’ and focus on providing Members with useful information about horticulture.

In his email to members in February, Henry Gewanter said:

‘Our Society is now at an important crossroads and you will soon need to decide on the sort of committee and Society you want. My vote is for kindness’.

The election for the nominees is being held online between 12-20 April and the result will be announced at the AGM on 25th April, which has suddenly become a hot ticket.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Huge increase in allotment fees agreed

See also: Storm in a plant pot wrecks Horticultural society

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