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Botanical Gardens Look for New Lures

Botanical Gardens Look for New Lures

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Published by MSK. SahaaDhevan

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Published by: MSK. SahaaDhevan on Jul 28, 2010
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10/01/2013

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Botanical Gardens Look forNew Lures
Laila Romero, a sous-chef, preparing appetizers at theCamellia Lounge at Descanso Gardens.By JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKIFor the last quarter century, the Cleveland BotanicalGarden went all out for its biennial Flower Show, thelargest outdoor garden show in North America. Withthemed gardens harking back to the Roman empire, or an18th-century English estate, the event would draw 25,000to 30,000 visitors.But in 2009, the Flower Show was postponed and thenabandoned when the botanical garden could not findsponsors. This year, the garden has different plans. FromSept. 24 to 26, it is inaugurating the RIPE! Food &Garden Festival,which celebrates the trend of locally
 
grown food — and is supported in part by theCleveland ClinicandHeinen’s, a supermarket chain. “The Flower Show may come back someday, but it’s notwhere people are these days,” says Natalie Ronayne, thegarden’s executive director. “Food is an easier sell.”So it is across the country. Botanical gardens areexperiencing an identity crisis, with chrysanthemumcontests, horticultural lectures and garden-club ladies,once their main constituency, going the way of manuallawn mowers. Among the long-term factors diminishingtheir traditional appeal are fewer women at home andless interest in flower-gardening among younger fickle,multitasking generations.Forced to rethink and rebrand, gardens are appealing tovisitorsinterests in nature, sustainability, cooking,health, family and the arts. Some are emphasizing theirsocial role, erecting model green buildings, promotingwellness and staying open at night so people can mingleover cocktails like the Pollinator (green tea liqueur, sodawater and Sprite). A few are even inviting in dogs (andtheir walkers) free or, as in Cleveland, with a canineadmission charge ($2).“We’re not just looking for gardeners anymore,saysMary Pat Matheson, the executive director of theAtlanta Botanical Garden. “We’re looking for people who go to artmuseums and zoos.”In May, the Atlanta garden opened an attraction thatwould fit right in at a jungle park: a “canopy walk” thattwists and turns for 600 feet at a height of up to 45 feet,allowing visitors to trek through the treetops. Not faraway, food enthusiasts can stop in at a new edible
 
garden, with an outdoor kitchen frequently staffed byguest chefs creating dishes with fresh, healthyingredients. Edible gardens are the fastest-growing trendat botanical gardens, consistently increasing attendance,experts say, along with cooking classes.Attendance in Atlanta since May is double what it was forthe same period last year.Public gardens across the country receive about 70million visits a year, according to theAmerican Public Gardens Association. But experts say that because of social trends and changing demographics, attendance isat risk if gardens do not change. They can, however, take advantage of several trends thatcould increase garden attendance, including concern forthe environment, interest in locally grown food, efforts toreduce childhood obesity, demand for family activitiesand mania for interactive entertainment. Even economicpressures could help botanical gardens, as more peopletry to grow their own food. In 2009, 35 percent oAmerican households had some kind of food garden, upfrom 31 percent in 2008, says Bruce Butterfield, researchdirector of theNational Gardening Association. Only 31percent participated in flower gardening in 2009, aboutthe same proportion as in the last few years.“There’s a generation that will be less interested ingardens,” says Daniel J. Stark, executive director of thepublic gardens association, but that generation isincredibly interested in what’s happening with the planet.Recently, my own two daughters, and a friend, werereading me the riot act about cutting down some trees.”Mr. Stark’s daughters are 4 and 8.

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