Why we resigned from the New Zealand Gardens Trust

Latest update, published April 27, 2012, looks at matters related to garden assessment and NZGT. Not, as has been suggested, because we have not “moved on”, but because, fundamentally we still believe in the concept of NZGT. It is just the implementation with which we have issues.

And from May 2009:
We were enthusiastic founder members of the New Zealand Gardens Trust, contributing $2000 to get the scheme underway and promoting it in every way we could. Now we are ex members.

1.      We do not agree with the way the Trust operates. This is an organization which appoints itself, (existing trustees chose new trustees with no input from the membership), meetings are closed, the AGM is held in what amounts to a closed meeting and there is little, if any, consultation with members.

2.      There is a failure to separate the governance role (which should rest with the trustees) from the operation of the Trust. The paid executive officer is also a trustee. The chief assessor is also a trustee, another assessor is the deputy chair of the Trust, a third person was until recently both a trustee and a senior assessor. This affects the ability of the trustees to objectively review Trust activities, including the processes of garden assessment.

3.      Garden assessment is a points based system – get enough points and you too can be rated as nationally significant. Without clear definitions, there are now gardens which carry ratings which describe them as being “significant” when it is not at all clear what is significant about them beyond the fact that they are well presented and tidy.

4.      Garden assessment so far has often been adversarial and lacking accountability, even to garden owners who are paying for it. There are other methods of garden assessment which set standards without alienating participants. We want to see a garden assessment system which nurtures and encourages, rather than burning people off. It was the discourteous and arrogant treatment meted out to the owners of a particular garden which was the final catalyst for our resignation. We no longer wished to be part of an organization which could treat its members so carelessly.

5.      We opposed the concept of Gardens of International Significance from the first moment we heard of it in April 2008. International reputations are earned on the international stage and not awarded to ourselves. This new category was introduced with no consultation of members. The method of selecting the first four allegedly internationally significant gardens lacked robust process and was not even by assessment to meet new criteria. International significance appears to be a Trust response to a top heavy nationally significant class but it is not an appropriate action, in our opinion. In fact, we would describe it as frankly embarrassing. Even worse is the indication on the new NZGT website that provided you can afford the $1125.00 fee, you too can self identify as a potential internationally significant garden and request an assessment. (Note: The pricing structure has apparently been changed recently. For us, it was never about the money in the first instance and this change is still mere tinkering to keep some people happy while the fundamental problems have apparently still not been addressed.) How long before there are so many Gardens of International Significance that we see the Trust needing another category – Gardens of Universal Significance, perhaps?

6.      There appears to be little understanding from the Trust Board of visitor numbers to gardens around the country and even less monitoring of actual benefits derived from membership of the Trust. A bottom line for us is that NZGT endorsement was not delivering up sufficient extra visitors to pay for the annual subscription.

7.      We tabled concerns in writing to the trustees in May last year. We never received a reply. When we resigned, we mentioned those concerns again but all that happened was that we were taken off the website at lightning speed and we received a letter which said nothing of note. Even though we were a founder garden, even though we have actively promoted the Trust, even though we have a reasonably high profile in this country and overseas, not one trustee picked up the phone to talk to us about our resignation.

8.      We still think that the concept of the New Zealand Gardens Trust is a good one but there is too large a gap between the concept and the current reality.

Glyn Church from Woodleigh Gardens comments:
I totally agree with everything you say about NZGT. We resigned from NZGT for the same reasons.

Nicki and Clive Higgie from Paloma Garden comment:
We’re very disappointed NZGT accepted your resignation (horrified there was no communication from them to you!) for we feel any scheme for garden visiting in New Zealand is totally deficient without your garden being included.

We remain members for now, as we’d really like the scheme to work. At present we feel it’s uneconomic for us: we’re not gaining financial benefit from membership but we feel the potential’s there.

With regard to the trust’s failure to separate governance from management, we agree with you. While trustees have so far done a wonderful job, it’s not desirable to put them in that position of performing both governance and operational roles, as trustees and assessors (or CE) at the same time.

The structure of any trust must allow for full member participation, total transparency and accountability.

As for garden assessment, it’s very difficult to award tangible points to intangibles. We feel a workable model’s been put in place and, personally, have few complaints. But at the end of the day, in any system, a points system or whatever, assessors’ personal taste, personal experience (or lack thereof) and even just the garden’s geographical position can have a large influence on results. An example of the last point is that a Japanese garden, even of international standards, should never, in our opinion, be assessed as having international significance in New Zealand .
Nicki and Clive

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