The director general of the Royal Horticultural Society welcomes us to her idyllic offices in Wisley, Surrey
Sue Biggs: The amazing thing about the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is that an awful lot of people don’t know we’re a charity. They see the public-facing side such as the Chelsea Flower Show the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and our four RHS gardens – but not so many people are aware of our scientific, educational and community projects.
We work, for example, with 15,500 schools through our Campaign for School Gardening programme. The most simple thing we want to do is to get more people gardening for a variety of reasons – from health and enjoyment to the future of the planet. So we’re a wonderful combination of commercial and charitable, which makes it an exciting and ever-changing place to work.
In August, I’ll have been here for two years. When I joined, the organisation had undergone a restructuring so my focus was bringing everyone together as a team – we have over 700 employees across seven sites.
Then it’s been about clearly defining our strategy and releasing funds to deliver that. Earlier this year we finalised the sale of our lease on Lawrence Hall which, along with fundraising, will create a fund of £27m to change the face of what the RHS can achieve.
I divide my time between our office at Vincent Square in London and the lovely old building behind me, called The Laboratory, here at our garden in Wisley. I have an office inside, and many of our scientists are also there. But we have buildings across the grounds, which makes it a vibrant place because people are always on the move.
Meetings often take place walking around the gardens – it makes it all so immediate, you can get instant customer feedback. And seeing schoolchildren filing in each day makes you think, ‘this is what the future of gardening is all about’.
There’s also a lot of travelling involved – we have 15 shows a year and I attend them all. So, no two days are ever the same and I’m always meeting people – whether it’s members, visitors, council members or some of our volunteer force of over 1,000 people.
It’s all about relationships, and one of the lovely things about horticulture is – whether you’re the lord of the land, or a junior gardener – if you know how to grow this or harvest that, people will respect you for the ability you’ve got. It’s a great leveller, and that’s the joy of it.
Sue Biggs was interviewed for Director magazine in July 2012