Garden-Oriented Events Not Popular? I Beg to Differ.


Here's today's second guest post from Ginny Stibolt.


A recent NY Times article
(covered here on The Rant)
reported on how public gardens are expanding their offerings and canceling
their traditional flower events. I'd like to offer additional ideas for
organizing events that can attract a large numbers of gardeners. My observations
are based on my participation in 11 garden fests and other garden-oriented or
environmental get-togethers this past year here in Florida. Some took place in
public gardens, but others took over downtown streets or city parks. They drew
from several hundred to more than 20,000 attendees.

There are plenty of ideas that could be applied anywhere.

Some general organization ideas:
· Events organized by multiple regional organizations— garden
clubs, master gardeners, and agriculture agents—seemed to gain more attention and
satisfy a larger audience. Also, events run with the participation of the city
or town and local businesses seemed to have more to offer.
· Two-day events drew more interest. This means that there
is more time to have a variety of speakers and to have more sub-events within
the festival.
· Making it easy for people to buy plants and get them to
their cars is important. Some of these events had youth group members towing
wagons or garden carts around the grounds.


Some of the best ideas to make the event work better or
garner more interest:
· As a fundraiser, the scarecrow contest at Fairchild
Tropical Gardens was fun. Organizations, adults, or children paid a fee to
enter their scarecrows into the competition. Then the attendees paid a dollar
to vote for their favorite. The money raised last year was used to buy fish for
their lakes to attract more water birds (I love the irony).
· Many festivals had entertainment including musical groups,
story telling, and strolling entertainers; others went further and created
scavenger hunts and other educational activities. One thing to avoid is loud sound
· Scheduled guided walks through the gardens, along trails
worked well at appropriate venues.
· Attendees seemed to pay closer attention to all the booths
(commercial, non-profit, and informational) when they were all mixed together
rather than segregated by category.
· Good ideas for service booths include tool sharpening,
plant diagnostics, and plant IDs. At some festivals there were scheduled
presentations at "Ask the Expert" booths; in others it was freeform.
· Expert speakers often draw a lot of attendees. Unless it's
a really large event, it's probably a good idea not to have too many speakers
at the same time.
· Food vendors should offer a wide variety of foods and
· Themed events work best if totally unrelated vendors are
not allowed. If it's a flower festival, having teens shoot baskets to raise
money for Haiti or private school recruiting booths might be too far off topic.
· At the St. Petersburg festival, the city offered 500 free
butterfly plants each day, which were gone in half an hour, and 2000 native
trees for $3 each.
· A number of events had birds and animals to see up close.
Some also had butterfly experience tents and/or releases. At the Jacksonville
Arboretum, a gopher tortoise made an appearance behind my booth.
· A wide variety of plant vendors with plants from seedlings
to well-established seemed to offer the right mix, but fests need to screen for
invasive exotics.


In sum, Garden Fests are fun! If you have a great idea that
your local event has implemented, leave a comment. Maybe those public gardens
will be able to add more gardening-oriented events back into their mix.

I've also created an online garden fest photo album
with more details on the various festivals. 

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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 regularly 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. There are some excellent ideas here, Ginny! Thanks for sharing them; putting on events like these is challenge for sure, and it really helps have some knowledge about what works beforehand. The photo album has a lot of pizazz,too!

  2. The Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, north of Portland, opened a children’s garden this summer that cost $1.7 million. The garden is filled with fun activities for kids. The coolest thing is the chicken coop, housing 8 chickens. The kids love it. What other Botanical Garden has chickens? I don’t know of any.

    A new idea to attract families to a Botanical Garden.

  3. Great ideas. I am with you on why the events are not well attended. It is the organizers own fault if they cannot draw visitors. I attend our local shows and there is a decent number of visitors, but to keep the vendors cost down, they need better promotion and be able to generate more income.

  4. Thomas, i love the idea of the permanent kids area in that garden–chickens and all.

    Patty, maybe you could work with your local groups and start an event in a downtown area, city park, or better yet, a public garden. Talk to your downtown merchants’ association, the master gardeners group, or ag. agents. Maybe they are just waiting for someone to take some initiative.

    I hope to hear from others who have participated in successful events.

  5. chicken coop for the kids’ area? How about a chicken area for the adults? 😛

    All of the ideas are great. The two that stood out to me were the variety of seedlings and well established plants for sale and tool sharpening, plant ID, and plant diagnostic booths.

  6. Ginny, Thank you so much for your blog, articles, and podcasts! I’m a Navy Nurse, currently deployed in Afghanistan, where all I see is tan desert…missing green! Your content is keeping me sane, and I can’t wait to get back to my Orange Park home and into the garden.

  7. Hi Tammy,

    Thank you for your service! If my talking about gardening here in Clay County is helping you keep your sanity, then I’m honored. Send me an email when you get back to Orange Park.

Comments are closed.