Savvy gardeners have always known that the allure of the natural world is a universal one, and now, it seems, everyone else has caught on as well. Garden tourism is big business these days, with people flocking to public pastures and plots for inspiration in record numbers.
Gardening is officially the most popular hobby in North America, so it should come as no surprise that garden tourism is thriving. In fact, in his book Garden Tourism (Butterworth-Heinemann, January 2012), author Richard W. Benfield points out that more people visit gardens every year than Disneyland and Disney World combined.
Ride the rails to visit Canadian gardens
One company that’s responded to the demand is VIA Rail Canada. Carol Cowan, manager of the VIA Rail Garden Route, cites these statistics as evidence of the surging market. “The latest (2006) Travel Activities and Motivation Survey (TAMS), commissioned by federal and provincial tourism ministries, indicates that a whopping 27 million Canadians and Americans visit the gardens of Canada in any given two-year period.” VIA Rail has promoted its Garden Route, which features 19 garden destinations from coast to coast, to train travellers for several years now, encouraging garden and rail enthusiasts alike to stop and smell the flowers.
Touring international garden destinations
Edmonton native Donna Dawson of gardeningtours.com, a tour company specializing in international garden destinations, has also witnessed the growing boom in garden tourism in Canada and beyond. Indeed, her business has mushroomed since 1998, from one group of 29 people who signed up to tour England’s great gardens to her current menu of six tours that also takes in exotic destinations as far away as Southeast Asia. “For a few years, I only offered tours to the more well-known hot spots—the United Kingdom, France and Italy. But with many travellers wanting something new and different, I expanded to offer destinations such as India, Morocco, Thailand and South Africa,” she says.
Inspiration for gardeners and non-gardeners alike
The trend is directly related to the current popularity of organic living, growing our own food and eating locally, and is the natural evolution of the increase in ecotourism we saw a decade ago. Non-gardeners are becoming just as interested as those with green thumbs in how different countries and cultures practice sustainability, and public parks and gardens are a perfect way to indulge a longing to learn. Whereas once a trip to Florence, Italy, for example, would feature magnificent paintings, palaces, shopping and eating, now the beautiful Boboli Gardens are on the must-see list for a lesson in restoration and maintenance. But whether it’s the expert’s love of the latest techniques or the novice’s interest in blossoms and blooms, one thing is clear: nature is definitely calling.