Talking up Gardens at the Visitors Bureau


Most public gardens in DC are little known to locals and never promoted to visitors (in contrast to the super-hyped cherry trees or to be exact, their short-lived blossoms).  And unlike most cities, our large, popular gardens are FREE.  Sadly, they don’t have the funds to let people know they exist.

So I started photographing the major DC-area gardens every month last season and the images and videos are ready to be used to direct more visitors to the gardens.  Some are posted to Flickr, some to Pinterest, and there are dozens of videos, too.  Photos are available free of charge.


The project, called is getting ready to officially launch its Indiegogo campaign on March 2, so it’s time to get the word to people who can use these digital resources, starting with Destination DC, which is DC’s official convention and tourism bureau. My attempts to speak with anyone there had all failed, but that changed quickly this week when I attended their big open house – 2 hours of schmoozing and handing out of business cards like they were going out of print.

chicoFirst, imagine the gardenblogger of a certain generation (Baby Boom) mingling and talking biz with young marketers – a 3-story office building full of them, and hundreds of travel-related business reps.  So first I had to do something I rarely do, and at always great pain – buy some clothes.  Like any lady Boomer I headed for Chico’s and was immediately adopted by the (also Boomer) saleswomen, who dressed me for the occasion. (This top with a black jacket and some short leather boots from the Aerosole store.)

For the open house, staffers were stationed near their offices, with overhead signs showing us visitors where to find, say, the International Visitors people.  That was my first stop, where I talked up the popularity of the Arboretum’s Bonsai Museum with Asian visitors.  And who’s in charge of attracting the Brits to DC?  Coz wouldn’t they just love to see our gardens?

At Convention Services I talked up using the gardens-by-month images to show conventioneers what else they could do while they’re here, long after the cherry blossoms have dropped.

Same deal at Visitor Services, which fields calls from visitors all the time asking what to do here.  (That reminds me; how does every single page on the website look on a cell phone? Gotta check.)


I made a beeline to the Website Operations folks and bossily asked them “How about getting some gardens on the website?” An idea that the two young men seemed to love.  So there’s hope that categories of “Things to Do” on the site shown above may include gardens.  I’m prepared to nag if necessary.

Hotels reps were to be found throughout the event, so with them I talked up the nearest garden as a what-to-do suggestion for their guests.  (If people staying at a small hotel near the fabulous Franciscan Monastery now find out about it, they have a Chico’s-dressed gardenblogger to thank.)

The Reactions

So how did these mostly young businesspeople react to the notion that gardens are good for business? Turns out the responses were very similar across departments.  Their faces lit up at the same few spots in my spiel:

  • “Photos by month.” Don’t know if other cities or regions have this problem but in DC it’s assumed that after spring, there’s nothing to see in the gardens.
  • “Free photos.”  That’s always popular and often met with skepticism but here they just reached for my business card.
  • “Videos, too.”
  • “Grassroots. ” That term is so unexpected in the business world (though not in the eco- and gardening worlds I usually network in) that using it here was fun.  And much better than an alternative word – volunteer project – which just conjures up Candystripers and retirees (gawd no!). “Grassroots” helped to explain why DC Gardens doesn’t have offices, or an actual budget.
  • Oh, and name-dropping some media coverage that’s been lined up for the launch of DC Gardens.  Media attention speaks to us all, of course.

And my reaction to going undercover at the visitors bureau to talk up the gardens surprised me most of all – I loved it!  Turning people on to gardens is always fun but especially when they’re young, apartment-dwelling businesspeople.

srb2Adding to the fun was my photographer pal Steve Brown, who took me to the open house as his guest.  He was there talking up his popular photo books (about the WWII Memorial and all of DC) and together, we raised the average age of attendees just a tad.


  1. Well done! Hopefully your efforts will bear some real fruit. It’s a good thing we have people like you in this world – God knows we could use a whole lot more. The horticultural world owes you for this!

  2. This is awesome and very much needed. Thanks for getting in there and convincing them that dc is great for live gardens as well as large concrete and stone statuary. This isn’t the DC that it used to be …’s more beautiful!

  3. Superb effort – which will pay off handsomely! There are some brilliant pointers here for similarly frustrated promoters of gardens in cities all over. I’m going to spread this little blog post around. Thanks, Susan.

  4. Ditto to all the “well done” comments. That is thinking outside of the box entrepreneurially! And well researched follow through including the clothes shopping.

  5. Huge kudos to you!

    So awesome for you to get outside your comfort zone and make such a great impact!

    I am sure your passion shined through and will make a difference.

    I’m up in Baltimore and now can’t wait to take more trips down to see more gardens that I was not aware of!!

  6. Thanks for the encouraging words, everyone!
    Now if you want something like DC Gardens near YOU, we’ll try to help make that happen. More soon on GardenRant. Susan

  7. Susan, I think that the DC area offers fabulous gardens for visitors. I am happy to see your focus on making these places more known to visitors. My favorite gardens surround the Castle at the Smithsonian. That one stop could include a walking tour of some beautiful gardens. Good luck.

  8. We are looking forward to the launch of the website. Thanks so much for spearheading this grassroots project.

    A long ago neighbor taught me this: gardening in beads, which was my euphemism for gardening no matter whether you were dressed for church or dressed for a day in the garden. Chico clothes are comfy clothes, ready to pluck a weed or two on the way to the next event to promote the wonderful DC gardens.

  9. Well done Susan! Thankful for the work you have done to promote DC gardens, but the reason I really loved this post was due to your honesty in relating the challenge of working a room of marketers – particularly those in a different world/generation. It’s not particularly fun stuff, but you nailed it and gave us the playbook. Good luck with this worthy endeavor! – Marianne

  10. Great work! I think this is a problem in most cities. I was surprised last year when visiting Portland OR for work, how hard it was to get good information about the gardens in that area.

  11. Great work! And, from someone who does that for a living (for a museum), I know how hard it is to get people interested at times (and how many times you have to follow-up to get things done). Do you know if Destination DC has the ability for you to add the information to the website yourself? Or for the gardens to do it themselves? I work just across the river in Alexandria and the VisitAlexandria website works like that (I manage the listings for my museum, Mt. Vernon manages their listings, each stores theirs, etc.).

    Also, if you want to expand this beyond DC, into Greater DC, let me know because I have the contacts in Alexandria to help make it happen quickly (and easily) in this little corner of NoVa.

  12. Susan this is a truly terrific idea. Whenever I visit DC (or any other city) I always try to find gardens to visit, sometimes I have more success than others. Your idea is inspirational, I hope others in other cities around the USA follow your example.

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