Author Topic: Tourist Attractions of The Old Fashioned Kind  (Read 1690 times)

Alan Sargent

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Tourist Attractions of The Old Fashioned Kind
« on: May 12, 2013, 09:18:11 am »
Tourist Attractions of The Old Fashioned Kind

During my work as a Consultant, and my leisure time as a frequent visitor to a range of gardens open to the public, varying in size, nature and complexity throughout Britain, I am often struck by the opportunities that are lost to the property owners and managers.

With the very difficult year of 2012 still uppermost in our minds, where everything seemed to conspire against the Managers of Gardens Open To The Public – from National Trust and English Heritage to Stately Homes and National Collections and Arboretums, the weather combined with the prolonged activities surrounding the Diamond Jubilee and both Olympics Games to reduce visitor numbers by some 20% on average.

Obviously, some attractions fared better than others, but by and large, income from the paying public was most certainly well down on previous years.
Combine this reduction of income with the ever rising costs of heating fuel, insurance and other overheads – even though wages bills may have been trimmed by shedding staff and cutting out overtime (or increasing the number of Trained Volunteers), an increase of some 5% across the board meant a 25% decrease in profits/income.

The opportunities to increase visitor numbers by means of Special Events, or by advertising as a Wedding Venue or other attractions including Festivals or Pageants, Antique Fairs or Country Days are limited for a wide range of reasons. The location and road infrastructure may preclude large scale events. The sheer cost of advertising and financing major events is incredibly expensive – with absolutely no guarantee of success. Certainly not for a new event, no matter how popular you may think the idea may be.

Successful events often happen by chance. I was Head Gardener at Goodwood
where The Festival of Speed was followed by The Goodwood Revival, both extremely successful projects, which grew organically, from little beginnings to major events. These brought much needed income into the Estate, but how many Houses could host such numbers of vehicles and people? Well over one hundred thousand souls at each. How many Estates could field that much expertise and management skill to control the massive infrastructure and project handle security/police/traffic management/fire control etc, except for one that already had their own In House staff including Fire Control (Goodwood has its’ own commercial airfield).

Identifying Alternative Opportunities
I cannot be the only person who really enjoys seeing how others work, and I often wangle my way into the private areas, out of bounds to the public, by having a chat to a gardener weeding away in a border, and getting myself invited to a cup of tea and an introduction to the Head Gardener.

How often do you find the working area of the garden, where probably the only people to enter the site are the Gardens staff – not even the owners come into the business end of the garden, where the rubbish pile has been gently smouldering away since last Christmas, where the broken machinery is covered over with plastic sheets ‘ just in case we need a replacement/spare part’?

I suggest that these working areas are Goldmines of interest to the general public. Both Mr and Mrs Gardener would really love to see how the garden is run, how compost should be made, what a proper tool shed should look like.
What is perhaps now simply a Glory Hole of old plant pots, discarded bean poles, rusty water butts with one wheel missing and a couple of compost bays could be turned into Visitor Heaven.

I appreciate the need to keep the public away from any danger, but with a low  picket fence and a couple of discreet signs telling folk to keep out of the working area, it would not be an expensive project to really go to town with your ‘exhibit’.

I believe that a model working garden environment – Behind The Scenes – would delight visitors. Carefully and properly managed compost bays, herbs and root vegetables in tubs, a well maintained greenhouse with some glass covered cold frames, perhaps some raised beds for vegetables, with dwarf espalier fruit trees and box hedging around the edges – so much scope for such a tableau!

On High Days and Public Holidays, have a member of staff, properly versed in the area, on hand to discuss the finer points of composting (and the difference between fungal activity and bacterial breakdown), to tell visitors how and why you carry out certain jobs. (Perhaps a Trained Volunteer?). Actively INVOLVE the public. Actively INVITE them along to see how you work and discuss how the garden is managed.

Quite apart from the additional interest you will engender with the public, who will want to come again, and ensure that their friends know about the ways in which you differ from other Open Gardens, you will have many opportunities for Staff Training. Not simply of good horticultural practice, but also of that magic ingredient missing in most teaching establishments – the basic requirements of Being A Proper Gardener. Learning to love the environment in which we work, not simply seeing a garden as a series of Health & Safety requirements, COSSH and RIDDOR regulations and  various ‘tickets’ and NVQ’s, but going back to the traditional techniques for which there is no modern substitute.

Evoke the image of the Head Gardener carrying the wooden trug full of fresh organic vegetables up to the Big House. The Public will love it!

Alan Sargent FIHort
March 2013