If we grow it, will they come?


Photo by Cheryl Jackson.

Here’s a hastily posed question as I prepare my property for
this weekend’s onslaught of Garden Walk visitors. Can garden tourism provide a
previously unexamined economic boost to cities (like mine) not ordinarily known
as tourism destinations?

According to a book
fellow Buffalo blogger Jim Charlier has referenced, the 40 million people who
visit gardens every year is a larger number than those who visit Disney World
and Disney Land, combined.  The
book, Garden Tourism, by Richard Benfield, is apparently one of the few—if not
the only—studies of the subject.

It reminds me of research I did about a decade ago about
cultural tourism as an alternative to the usual entertainment lures local politicians
were liking then (casinos and maybe a new stadium). And it does seem as though
visitors to historic and cultural attractions stay longer and leave more money
behind than anyone else. I wonder if the same might be true of gardening,
though of course, it would have its seasonal ups and downs in most places.
Still, in many areas, especially where traditional industry has declined,
creative economic boosts need to be explored; for a while, tourism has been one
of them.

Have any of you explored this option in your own
communities, especially where there are major horticultural attractions, or
even the possibility of agritourism,  which is already big in Europe? It’s a possibility on the
minds of a few gardeners around here. But I am sure we can’t be the only ones.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I think agritourism is one of the elements in our western Mass economy, as are many renewed agricultural endeavors. We have the Trustees of Reservations, Community Involved is Sustainable Agriculture(CISA) to thank for some of this, as well as cultural operations like Tanglewood, and Historic Deerfield, and adventure operations like rafting on the Deerfield and zip lines and cross country skiing. We are a very rural area and come at tourism in a different way, but our local Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls has become a tourist destination for day trippers, or for those who want to spend a few days in the area staying at one of our cozy B&Bs. There are even a few places that offer Farm Vacations – although I’m told most people prefer watching chores, than participating. I live in the country but I do love cities – and Buffalo has a whole new place in my heart.

  2. Yes, of course garden tourism can give an economic boost! And, yes, garden tourism is growing.

    Just look at the great efforts by the Garden Conservancy with their Open Days program.

    Pearl Fryar in Bishopville, SC ( a depressed town of 3000) thinks he had 10,000 visitors last year alone!

    People are looking for something different, something relaxing, something inspirational. Gardens have all of that.

  3. An interesting question is whether or not home gardeners could or should yield some income from having their properties used as the engine for tourism. The Garden Conservancy raises funds by individuals opening their private properties to the donating contributors. Are there implications for home-owners’ insurance in case a visitor has an accident on the premises? My guess is that once money changes hands at the garden gate, some new rules may apply.

  4. I, for one, make it a point to seek out a public garden, arboretum, or conservatory in any city or town I happen to visit – whether for business or pleasure. And I would probably NEVER have made the trek to Buffalo were it not for the Garden Walk Eliz talked up two years ago. We have been back several times since then to explore the city more in-depth as we had such a nice time.
    I definitely think tourism could be expanded in many parts of the country with widely publicized events like this.

  5. I live near Longwood Gardens and they are a major tourist draw in the area. I’m sure there are other similar attractions around the country.

  6. I think the model that should be considered is the bird watching model. Bird Watching can bring in a LOT of tourism dollars and bird watchers tend to be well behaved (not as much drunken misbehavior if you’re planning to get up before the sun rises to go birding).

    One of the big things bird watchers have done is create maps of areas to go bird watching. These “Birding Trails” are either publicly available or cheap. I can imagine that a “Garden Trail” that lists public gardens (and private gardens that may be accessible) would help with Garden Tourism.

    I like to visit gardens when I go on vacation (5 am to 11 am bird watching, after lunch visit a garden and look at plants and butterflies, more bird watching as the sun goes down, then collapse into bed and repeat). It would be very useful to have one place to go to get information on local gardens.

  7. I’ve had the same thoughts as Eric. If a region wants to tout its gardens, especially the residential ones, what’s in it for the gardeners? For last weekend’s tour of 72 garden bloggers, about 40 homeowners willingly allowed visitors in their gardens. And for two days a year, we get 355 gardens open. And now we have 77 local Open Gardens on Mondays and Thursdays. Most feel it’s a civic duty/pride thing, and that works, for now. But at what point does it become onerous to keep up your garden (and its expenses) and keep it open for strangers?

    Opening up a garden like the Shadrack’s works for a Fam (Familiarization) Tour for writers and media folk, but what should be charged to view a private garden if it were part of an organized, for-profit tour? Is it even feasible? It’s one thing to view front yard gardens from the street, another to visit a back yard.

    Insurance is an issue. Garden Walk Buffalo has an insurance policy coverage incidents during its two days. But, if someone trips over a hose on someone’s property, they’ll sue the homeowner, Garden Walk Buffalo, the hose manufacturer, and the water authority. No entity is immune. This is a hurdle for all gardens tours, not insurmountable, but a hurdle.

    Easiest is to tout public gardening venues – botanical gardens, public parks, garden centers, garden shows & exhibitions. Gets trickier when it includes private home gardens.

  8. I have friends in Delaware County PA outside Philly. They have a gorgeous landscape and have worked very hard for ten years for it to get to its current spectacular state. This year they were on 4 or 5 garden tours including the PA Hort Society Tour (bit leagues). I was talking with Liz yesterday and she was so relieved not to have to be out in the gardens every day to get every weed. They love to chat with the garden visitors, but the work load on the gardeners side is very real. I don’t think it would make any differfence if they got a fee for their efforts. They garden for their pleasure and prefer to do it at their own chosen pace. Is it in Charlotte NC where the rule is if the gate is closed the garden is not available, if the gate is open you may visit the garden? I live in Detroit, a city not unlike Buffalo. Someone in Detroit has to say, if Buffalo can do it so can we.

  9. Our county travel and Convention Bureau touts the public gardens, limited that they are in our area for tourist attractions. The county farm bureau and soil and water district have ag day, where you visit farms. It is promoted. Our private gardens are open for fund raisers for things like Hospice, etc. My complaint with most of the garden tours are they are in July. Why? It is so dang hot I don’t want to tour anything. What about spring tours? Or at least June?

  10. I like the idea of entire downtowns or neighborhood public areas being transformed by swapping out the boring plants with a open, streetfront botanic garden style of plantings. Interesting plant collections, labels, etc, all out there for people to enjoy. Why does it all have to be walled off and a destination, instead of all around us everyday?

  11. The Skagit Valley north of Seattle does agritourism every spring. They have daffodil and tulip Festivals. Hoards of people descend on the small towns surrounding the growing fields to eat and shop. The growers take lots of orders for fall. Everyone benefits.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know a major reason we choose Cannon Beach, OR to vacation in, instead of the other beach towns, is because the beautiful plantings everywhere make it so much more attractive than the other beach towns.

  12. I recently visited McAllen and there was a great birding presence there! If you haven’t visited Quinta Mazatlan I really recommend it. There’s also great places all over the city, including public nature walks, that have some great birding.

    Visit the CVB website at http://mcallencvb.com/ and go to the Birding section for more information.

  13. After becoming an obsessed gardener, I find that ALL my vacation plans (Japan, California, Florida) feature visits to gardens. They can only be experienced in person and are ephemeral, hence the compulsion. Also, membership in many American Botanical Gardens provides free admission to others around the country. Working my way through “1001 to See Before You Die”.

  14. I recently traveled half way across the continent to spend my summer vacation (and quite a few dollars) on Vancouver Island because I wanted to visit Butchart Gardens.

  15. I would find visiting private gardens much more of a joy then manicured botanical institutions. In fact private garden tours are becoming popular in The Hudson Valley. Problem is the cost $25-50 to see 5-10 gardens. The fees do benefit local charities. However to make these tours more of a benefit to the entire community events like these need to include all venues. Combining the tours with day long seminars, demonstartions and contests would do a lot more to make garden tourism a boon to the entire community

  16. This is a fascinating topic. I’m the executive director of NYC Wildflower Week. Our free programming includes public and private gardens that feature plants native to the NYC area. Gloria above referenced our website, which is fantastic! But I believe these options have to be explored. We’ve seen the casinos. Let’s garden our way to a stronger economy!

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