Public Gardens and Social Media


For my new volunteer project promoting DC’s public gardens, the focus is on images, using them to create videos, but then what?  Just a slide show?  I think not, because Pinterest and Instagram are hot-hot-hot and gardens are uniquely suited to visuals, to say the least.

The research on marketing with Pinterest is consistent – beautiful photos are all-important.  But then I asked garden writers who use Pinterest and they went farther, telling me that gardeners want more – “added value,” like Pinterest boards that teach.  Kat White suggested using “Great ideas for winter interest from XYZ Garden,” and photos that show the benefits of visiting a garden.  So we’d show people relaxing, learning, and admiring the flowers – just what  Professor Benfield’s research on garden tourism -has shown works to attract visitors.

Helen Yoest had a great tip – to invite people to join a joint Pinterest board so that my group’s pins show up lots of places.  (More on that below.)

Marketing maven Suzi McCoy at Garden Media Group tells me that Instagram is the easiest way to snap and share. “Plus you can enhance and get creative. I also like to use Picframe to make a collage for sharing in several platforms. I always take a picture of the garden’s signage as a guick visual to show where I am. And I take shots from different angles to show the space. And remember to take really close up artsy shots as well as plant tags to ID later.”

To find out how public gardens in other cities are using images, I perused the Public Garden group board on Pinterest and quickly found the the reigning Pinterest champ among all public gardens – Lewis Ginter in Richmond, VA.  They have 2.5 million followers, fer crissakes.  How do they do that?

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on Pinterest

I got the answer from Jonah Holland, who does social media for the garden, and it turns out they got lucky.  Pinterest noticed and liked their use of Pinterest and recommended it early on to all users.  It also helps that the garden adopted Pinterest early, and they seem to be early adopters of everything.  The social media campaign includes not just Pinterest but Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a blog, Youtube, Flickr, Linked In, Google+ and Tumblr.  (That last one, what is that?)  And they’re experimenting with the use of QR codes in the garden.

Using Pinterest, Lewis Ginter’s gotten exposure to a wider audience – like the wedding and cooking audiences, both of which are huge on Pinterest.  And they use joint boards to multiply the viewership, like one “Natural Va beauty” and “Richmond with Kids,” with eight different entities pinning.

So how do they accomplish all this?  With Jonah’s 25 hours a week and a whole team of staffers and volunteers contributing, too.

Jonah turned me on to a terrific survey that the American Public Garden Association did of the gardens’ use of social media, with results from 11 gardens showing everything from Lewis Ginter’s exhaustive campaign to gardens still using just Facebook and e-news.  But reading interview responses from all 11 gardens yielded some nice tips for success.

The Huntington Garden describes their use of Flickr: “I’ve created six different Group Pools where visitors can share their photos. One example is our Desert Garden group. Another is our Flowers in Bloom group. ”  They then pick a Photo of the Day from Flickr to distribute via other platforms.

The New York Botanic Garden (another early adopter and on whom Jonah tells me she has a “social media crush”) analyzes data from Four Square to experiment with hashtags on signs in the conservatory.  “We were trying to talk to these techie visitors in their language, and guess what: they loved it! We were inundated with Tweets, Instagrams, Tumblr posts and so much more, and we were able to track them, thank them, and highlight them because of one simple hashtag.”  Wow.

NYBG uses a long list of platforms and they’re “always looking out for the next big thing… We are on all these channels because I think each one offers something different. Botanical gardens are inherently beautiful places, so it makes sense to use Flickr (especially the Group Pool where we get to see how our visitors see NYBG).”

nybg appAnd they just launched a cool new app for visitors, developed under a grant from the Bloomberg Foundation.

Creating Larger Community of Gardeners

What impresses me most about these savvy social media programs is how they’re used to not just attract visitors, but as Jonah explained, to promote a larger plant and gardening community in their city.  On Pinterest, for example, Ginter uses the hashtag #rvablooms to reach a wide community, rva being the popular hashtag for Richmond.  And they reached out to local musicians to contribute music for the garden’s videos, in exchange for credit and a mention of an upcoming performance. 

Seems to me that public gardens are the perfect entities to create that community of gardeners in their region and to give nongardeners the itch to try their hand at it.  Inspiration, learning, community – what’s not to love?  Which is why it bugs me so much that so few locals or visitors even know that so many of DC’s public gardens exist, much less think to visit them.  And why we’re experimenting with a teamed social media project for all 16 of our public gardens – coz there’s no one every one of them is going to have a beefy social media program of their own.

Your Public Garden and Social Media

Help your local public garden and gardens in other cities by telling us – do you think they’re reaching the general public, experienced gardeners, foodies?  What do they use and is there another platform you’d like to see them use?


  1. Great article with lots to follow. Thank you! I have been working on my Pinterest pages for 2 years. They are meant as a resource for my customers and exponential clients. I read a lot of blogs and articles and do research. When I pot a pin I try to make sure that it leads to the original source so people can get more information. As a designer I like Pinterest because I get to tour so many gardens which definitely stimulates my own imagination and helps keep my own designs fresh! I just learned a tip. If you put a link in your article make it open into a separate window so your article is still there to refer back to. : ) Happy Gardening!

  2. Great, wonderful, article.

    Finally, a way to reach the ‘ungardened’ and they are responding.

    Pictures. Beautiful pics. Pics with narrative needing no words. Series of pics on a pin board showing how-to without words. And other methods….

    Again, article is fab. Quite generous in content.

    Thank you.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. We’ve been exploring the social media aspect here at Kansas State University as well, and I thought your mention of the public wanting “boards that teach” was timely. I’m not intentially trying to use Garden Rant to promote this, but another example of use of social media can be seen on the K-State Gardens Facebook page, where the individual slides of a presentation about the K-State Rose Garden can be viewed:

  4. Terrific work! This is the kind of info that are supposed to be shared across the web.
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  5. Susan I am so happy that you are venturing into these forms of social media, because as Tara Dillard said, it it one way that I’ve seen to bring the uninitiated “into the fold”. The new media landscape moves and changes so quickly, and we have to be ready to go with it. As you wrote, early adopters tend to get the benefits, so let’s all be on the lookout for the next great platform! Thanks for this super informative article!

  6. I concur that Jonah with Lewis Ginter is a social media model to be emulated. She does a fantastic job of visitor engagement.

    Locally in DC, I find that Hillwood Museum and Gardens is another terrific example of a lively Twitter feed. I’m constantly re-sharing their shares from the cutting garden.

    For public gardens to reach the visiting public, they should think like a visitor — they want share-able moments. Ideally, they should create garden vignettes and post easy hashtags on prominent signage so tourists can snap a moment to share on their Twitter feed or Instagram or Facebook account and show their friends and family “here I am and look how much fun I’m having.”

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