US Cities Promote Garden Tourism
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - More cities are inviting travelers to stop and smell the roses, hoping that they’ll also taste the food, see the sights, hear some music - and spend some money.
Garden tourism has blossomed as an attractive niche for cities, not only as a way to spruce up their collective curb appeal but to generate green for hotels, restaurants and shops.
Around the country, there are as many events to pick from as a field of wildflowers.
Buffalo is gearing up for its annual Garden Festival, where the main event is a weekend of meandering through the eclectic backyards of some 350 home gardeners. Western New York neighbor Rochester has its fragrant lilac festival. Albany revels in its showy Mother’s Day tulips. In North Carolina, it’s an Azalea Festival. And in Deer Isle, Maine, it’s the Lupine Festival.
There are some 3,000 garden-centered events and festivals in the United States yearly, said Richard Benfield, author of the upcoming book "Garden Tourism."
He estimates earth-friendly garden tourism to be one of the country’s fastest growing areas of leisure and recreation, appealing not only to an older crowd that may have outgrown the roller-coaster scene, but also to younger homeowners in search of landscaping inspiration and to anyone in search of a simple breath of fresh air.
"In terms of our society," Benfield said, "there’s an element of wanting more beauty, that people are tired of the sterile, gray, urban. We’re looking much more for something a little deeper and there are many studies that suggest flora and biological species do a lot for the human spirit."
Buffalo’s self-guided free Garden Walk, now in its 17th year, has been drawing crowds of 45,000 to 50,000 people, on par with regional events like the Vermont Maple Festival, Cincinnati River Festival and Little River Blue Crab Festival in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Organizers found 36 states and nearby Canada represented in a ZIP code survey of 2,864 of last year’s attendees, while overall, about a quarter of visitors were from out of town. A longer questionnaire of 258 people determined that visitors spent an average of $68 and reported attending an average of 3.39 garden events each year.
"We were impressed," said walk President Jim Charlier, "It was nice to see the breadth of states and Canada."
The ever-growing crowds last year inspired the creation of the broader Garden Festival. Instead of a single weekend, five weeks of garden-related walks, tours, seminars and other special events are now promoted to draw in and keep tourists busy at sites that, as an added bonus, often don’t need the expensive staffs and maintenance of attractions like amusement parks or museums.
Between June 24 and July 31, visitors can vote in a front yard contest pitting landscapers against each other and see "open gardens," a concept borrowed from England in which the best private gardens are open for evening visits. Tourists also are encouraged to see the Buffalo Japanese Garden, a gift from Kanazawa, Japan, and modeled after that city’s scenic Kenrokuen Garden, as well as the Delaware Park Rose Garden and Erie Basin Marina test gardens, where new annuals are evaluated.
"For people coming a great distance, you have to show them that there are a critical mass of experiences," said Ed Healy, spokesman for the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau. Visitors needs to know "that it’s really worth their while to jump in the car and drive up here from White Plains or to get on a plane and come up here from Baltimore," he said.
At Albany’s annual Tulip Festival, organizers make a point not only to showcase the spectacular 200,000 flowers. They also book entertainment on two stages and have events like the crowning of the Tulip Queen to keep visitors in town, Albany special events spokesman Jason Bonafide said. The weekend typically draws 80,000 people.
A newspaper write-up about the Buffalo Garden Walk caught the attention of Jan Kious, a Cleveland gardener who decided to make the four-hour drive from a fellow rust-belt city that has battled public perception.
She was so inspired by the way Buffalo’s home gardens had boosted property values and community pride that she brought the idea back home with her: Cleveland’s inaugural garden walk is June 25. Besides private homes, the tour will include farms, vineyards and orchards that have sprouted up on property left vacant by the nation’s foreclosure crisis.
"There is such enormous support for it, it boggles the mind," said Kious. The Cleveland Botanical Gardens stepped forward to throw a free party for 300 people, just one of several offers of support.
"These are things we didn’t even seek out," Kious said. "It honestly feels like an idea whose time has come."
No one tallies up the attendance and spending of all of the thousands of events held around the country each year. But one indicator of the nation’s love of gardens, Benfield points out, is the National Garden Association’s annual survey measuring home gardeners’ habits. From 2009 to 2010, household participation in all types of do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities increased by 2 million households, to 83 million households, the survey found.
"No one is disappointed by floral splendor at the end of the day," Benfield said. "Flowers don’t disappoint."