Storm in a plant pot wrecks Horticultural society

Image above: Allotment tended by one of the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society’s members

‘Heated, emotional and bitter rows’

A row that has been rumbling for weeks in the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society has come to a head with the Chairman, Henry Gewanter, sending out an email to all members asking for ‘a little kindness.’

In his message of Thursday 11 February he wrote:

‘It’s well known that local gardening clubs can be a hotbed of petty arguments, unfair criticisms, incessant backbiting and backroom political manoeuvring. Indeed, it’s so well known that we were approached by more than one TV production company wanting to film a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary showing just this sort of bad behaviour.

‘Unfortunately, our committee has all too often been prone to these foibles, but although such a programme would make great television, I did not think it in the interests of our Society to expose my colleagues’ interactions in this way.

‘Perhaps it’s the strain of prolonged lockdown, but our meetings have, I’m sorry to say, become even more badly behaved than ever before, with unacceptable levels of rudeness, unfair criticisms and arguments – the more minor the subjects of which, the more heated, emotional and bitter the rows have become’.

Images above: from the annual Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society’s Summer Show

Move over Handforth Parish Council

It seems the members of the Handforth Parish Council have nothing on the members of the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society. The society’s members keep allotments beside the cemetary 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.

The row dates back to a decision by the Chairman to help out the Chiswick Flower Market by receiving a £500 donation from the Wakeham Trust and passing it on. The Wakeham Trust, a well-respected charity which has been supporting local community projects for nearly 50 years, wanted to support the Flower Market, but their charter only allows them to make donations directly to registered charities, which the Horticultural Society is.

Disagreeing with the way in which the Chairman acted on this, without getting the backing of the rest of the committee, one of the Horticultural Society committee wrote to the Trust accusing it of using the Society to avoid paying tax. The Wakeham Trust was forced to defend itself and threatened legal action it they continued to allege financial impropriety.

‘Many of the projects we support are early stage community groups that are not registered charities’ they said.

‘We can make grants in pursuit of general charitable purposes and we are not restricted legally to supporting charities so we not acting ultra vires.

‘But since we are a small volunteer run organisation we can’t go and check the existence of each project, and since our grants are very small doing so would impose a disproportionate economic cost just in terms of travel costs.

‘We thus ask applicants to find a local charity to accept grants on their behalf, because the local charity will be in a position to know the bona fides of the underlying project’.

Image above: One of the allotments and the Trading Hut

Lockdown has “brought out the worst in people”

The Chiswick Flower Market’s status is that of a Community Interest Company and everyone involved in it gives their time as a volunteer.

Henry Gewanter told The Chiswick Calendar (whose editor is also a director of the Flower Market) that the aims and objectives of the Chiswick Flower Market and the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society were virtually identical.

They had helped out the Flower Market and by having a stall at the market they added about 100 new people to their membership. He had hoped that things would settle down, he said, but as he wrote to members on Thursday:

‘the ill-will has generated a mean-spirited campaign in which half-truths and (at least in one case I’ve been made aware of) untruths are being spread amongst the members to sow further discontent’.

Those in the Society who disagree with their Chair accuse him of acting in a high handed manner without reference to the rest of the committee. He puts it down to a clash of personalities.

“Lockdown seems to have brought out the worst in some people and the best in others” he told us.

He concluded his letter to members:

‘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’.

Images above: Prize winning flowers

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Huge increase in allotment fees agreed

See also: London Mayoral elections to go ahead in May

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.