In no particular order: observations from a garden tourism destination



Over 350 gardeners took part in Garden Walk Buffalo this
year; as you know, I have been one of them for a decade now. Here’s some of what
I noticed this year:

-The book on garden tourism has yet to be written. I was
mistaken when I said British-born geographer Richard Benfield’s (with
hydrangeas, above) book was out; it’s listed on websites, but not yet
published. The professor, who teaches in Connecticut, visited my garden on
Saturday morning and explained to me that he still needed to collect most of
the statistics. Using words like “cohorts,” he explained that one couple,
visiting for the weekend, staying in a hotel and eating out, represented a
$2-3k financial impact, and that 40k visitors doing the same thing could bring
in 6 figures worth of tourism revenue.

Benfield became interested in garden tourism when traveling
with his wife to Longwood Gardens, and (bored), sitting around near the
entrance watching all the visitors come in and out. He explains that our
current aging population is the perfect demo for garden visitation, while
increased concern about environmental issues, and interest in food-growing and
community gardening add to the likelihood of travel for gardening’s sake. Like
many, Benfield feels that interest in vegetables often expands to include ornamental
gardening. Sure enough, the very first visitors to my property that morning
were from Ohio. Over the weekend—with the help of zip code collection sheets—I
saw others from Pennsylvania, California, Alaska, Florida, Rhode Island, and
other states—and, of course, Canada. I’ll have more from Benfield’s research in
another post.

-It’s always interesting to see which plants get the most
attention. For the past few years, Persian Shield (strobilanthes), a shiny
purple foliage annual, has been consistently admired. A close second is the
henryi species lilium, tall, orange, and wild. Add to those new additions l.
tigrinium “Flore Pleno,” which is a double version—long-flowering and very
striking. Frequently-asked questions: do I get Japanese beetles (yes, but just
a few, easily controlled), do I take the pots in during winter (yes and no),
and who made our sculpture and painted our mural. The fact that my viburnum
tomentosum is covered with berries for the first time in 8 years (usually there
are just a few) caused a number of people to ask about it. And, of course, the
hydrangeas. This is the year of the hydrangea, all agreed. I can’t imagine
gardening without them.


-As for the issues about liability and recompense for
gardeners, I admit that they exist, but I personally have never thought about
getting compensated for being on the tour. The revenue (from donations) does
benefit public beautification, and besides that, it’s fun. I really don’t care
about being paid—and in ten years there's never been a claim that I've heard about. So I'm not going to worry. It's been too nice a summer for that.

Previous articlePublic Gardens Rebranding Themselves
Next articleThe Great British Snail Swap
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


  1. They are at least spending 1k themselves, I’d think, with travel, lodging, and meals, and then there is a multiplier for the impact, which includes how the money they spend affects the economy here.

  2. Garden tourism new? NOT

    Working in Europe, John Adams & Thomas Jefferson had a free bit of time & took off together, in a single carriage, visiting gardens across England for many days.

    What’s new is the realization by marketers of a new way to make money.

    Perhaps they will also discover who spends the most in their gardens & how it’s spent. With over 2000 landscape designs I have an inkling.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. OK, now I’m curious…. who spends the most on their gardens and how do they spend it? I know I would spend a lot more if I weren’t putting 2 kids through college.

  4. My husband and I came from Schenectady to the garden walk; we stayed one night at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, one night at the Holiday Inn on Delaware. Dined out on Elmwood Ave. We spent under $500–remember, this is upstate NY….

    Saw about 40 gardens over two days, exhausting! I loved the exuberance of these gardens and the way the gardening bug spreads among neighbors. Most of the gardens I visited were on small city lots so not so helpful to me in learning how to structure and and manage my more suburban yard. Next time I go –and I will go again–I’ll look for neighborhoods with larger lots.

    But I was so impressed with what I saw — thank you, Buffalo gardeners!

  5. In terms of Buffalo, most of our money goes into keeping up our old houses, much more than the garden. Very few pay for a designer–but I’m betting some spend a lot on plants and bulbs.
    I don’t see too many outdoor kitchens. Many hand built decks, ponds, and patios, a few hot tubs. Most of the yards are too small for pools.
    I did pay for someone to do my pond and fountain but I am the exception. And the art was not free.

  6. With the exception of a few snow skiing vacations, all of my sojourns have been centered around garden tourism.
    I’ve run the gamut in regards to the overall costs spent for my garden tourism, from a low cost local day out in Napa Valley to a couple weeks of touring private and public gardens in Indonesia.
    When designing my first european garden gazing tour I used The Yellow Book and The Gardens of England book when in England and several good local tourist books from the visitors bureaus from Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland.

  7. As a freelance writer, I have written garden travel itineraries and stories for the official NC Tourism website. I proposed that they include a “Gardens & Arboretums” section in 2009 and they added it to the website. Looking at the number of downloads of my free itineraries from the website as of today = 5,848. Those itineraries are among the most popular with visitors to the website. I don’t know how many of those translate into actual visits to the gardens and generates revenue, but it sure helps our state!

  8. I have witnessed a local garden club use members photos of botanic gardens from around the world as an activity in the dead of winter. Everyone was encouraged to submit 6 photos from the previous years travels, someone put them all into a powerpoint slideshow, during the activity each person was handed the microphone to explain where they were and what they saw. A great way to spend a winter evening and definite proof that people do travel to see gardens.

  9. Three of us from a garden club north of Pittsburgh attended Garden Walk this year and purchased the book and DVD specifically to show at our January meeting next year. Between us, we probably spent close to $1k over three days (two nights at the Hampton Inn, meals, etc. and we dropped a significant amount over at Urban Roots Community Garden Center!) After our 30 members see the DVD and book, I know a lot of them will put Garden Walk Buffalo on their travel list!

  10. I do plan my vacations with some garden tour for me. The internet makes it a lot easier to find interesting stuff. When I finally caved and went to Disney world years ago, I planned it for the week they had some flower thing at Epcot center.

    When we visited son in Santa Fe he, sweet child that he can be at times, arranged for a walk thru an older upscale neighborhood with gorgeous landscaping of all kinds that ended up in the gallery district also lavishly planted. He also located a SW native plant nursury for us to visit. I could have easily dropped severel $k if I had it, but like poster above, have kids in college. Now if I could magically transport my 1920’s 3 bedroom house worth 5 figures in the midwest to Santa Fe I could sell it for enough to pay for all the college and a gardening trip to Europe. And a replacement house. Anybody have some magic pixie dust?

  11. Visiting a new garden is definitely my idea of a good time.
    No matter how humble I always learn so much about gardening and the unique style each garden & gardener has. This is to be encouraged so that more people can learn to make a garden to reflect their idea of paradise.

Comments are closed.