For many years if you mentioned Buffalo, New York, in a conversation, people would immediately think about snow. But lately, many find that this city on Lake Erie is associated with gardens. The festival of open gardens known as Garden Walk Buffalo has become a major tourist attraction that is good for area businesses, has transformed whole neighborhoods, and promotes horticulture in general.
Garden Walk Buffalo started more than 20 years ago when a group of neighbors decided to share their gardens with one other on a July weekend. They enjoyed themselves so much that the open garden weekend was repeated the following year, and soon it became an annual event that was open to the public. Now hundreds of gardens are on tour over the weekend, and the event has spawned additional garden tours, as well.
Five years ago, this event inspired something similar on Cape Cod, where I live, as we began the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival. Unlike Garden Walk Buffalo, where the gardens are free for touring and the event happens over a single weekend, the Cape Cod Festival takes place over 10 days, and there is a small fee for entry to each garden. The cost to tour a garden is $5, which goes directly to a local non-profit. The non-profits find the gardens and staff them, and the local chamber of commerce coordinates the list of open gardens and activities.
What do these garden tours, and others like them, mean for independent garden centers? Might it be worth your while to start one in your area? Here are some ways that IGCs can benefit from garden tourism.
When my garden was open during the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, a young woman walked down the driveway, suddenly stopping in her tracks. “Oh!” she exclaimed as she looked at the beds of flowers and vegetables, “I didn’t know this was possible!” There is nothing like a beautiful home garden to show people what they can achieve.
When people tour a garden, they are seeing the end result of the materials you sell. Walking through a beautiful garden is a perfect commercial for the plants and products we offer. Local IGCs could even create arrangements to feature unique or signature products and plants in an open garden along with some small signage or printed material.
What Garden Walk Buffalo discovered is that when one neighbor fixes up his or her yard and garden, the neighbors on all sides often do, too. Planting can be contagious, which means more customers come into your store.
IGCs can hold special talks, classes and other programs that coincide with a festival. Match your events to the theme of the fest or help those with gardens on tour prepare in advance with a “Make Your Garden Tour-Worthy” seminar.
Marissa Byrum, director of communications and community outreach at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply in Tampa, Florida, is excited about pairing up with a nearby neighborhood garden tour this fall. “We’ll be advertising in their flyer, and I also hope to make nice signage for participating home gardens to display our store information in their yards,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to the hyper-local exposure.”
If you want to consider starting an open-garden festival in your area, start out with a theme or map out a master plan. Spending some time exploring similar events online can help narrow down the possibilities. Look at Garden Walk Buffalo and the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival to start.
Remember that sometimes all it takes is for one person or business to say, “Let’s do this!” People like to be a part of something good, and you just might grow a beneficial event that brings beauty, goodwill and profits to your community.