Gardens tourism blooming throughout Atlanta – Atlanta Business Chronicle

With new offerings and new interest sprouting, metro Atlanta’s garden tourism industry keeps blooming.

Georgia – and metro Atlanta – is home to several public gardens, some more well known to tourists than others, but each offering the best of lush flower and plant life, along with other amenities.

“As with any other form of travel, people are looking for hands-on, authentic experiences, not just to look at and admire pretty gardens. Whether it’s growing their own tomatoes, raising their own chickens or selecting plants and flowers native to Georgia to plant at home, people are thinking globally when making these choices more and more often,” said Shawn Jervis, general manager of Barnsley Resort, via email. “Gardens that offer hands-on learning experiences to teach skills people can take into their day-to-day lives will continue to grow,”

Part of the success of garden tourism is a steady interest in organic and locally grown food, he added.

“Whether through farm visits and stays, or pick-your-own [fruits and vegetables] experiences, people are reconnecting with where their food is grown and raised,” Jervis said. “You can see the importance and potential in this through statewide initiatives like Georgia Grown and by searching agri-tourism on [the website] Explore Georgia.”

Public gardens come in varying sizes in the metro area, including Atlanta Botanical Garden, Callaway Gardens, the demonstration gardens at Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens and State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Someone might visit a 30-acre garden for a couple hours, for example, then linger at a larger property to finish out the day.

“Each garden helps the other gardens,” said Jim Gibbs, founder, designer and developer of the 326-acre Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Though data on the economic impact of garden tourism is sparse, anecdotally, interest is growing, as these spaces in Atlanta are expanding and introducing new experiences for patrons.

“A lot of the large gardens are realizing they have to up their game in terms of their programming because that brings people in through the gates,” said Carol Cowan, manager of the North American Garden Tourism Conference, and director of marketing and operations for the Canadian Garden Council. “That’s a real draw for people when you start to mix art and music and cooking in with the beauty of a public or botanical garden.”

An indoor and outdoor experience

Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Ga., is one example. The attraction has opened a new 55-room inn and 9,000-square-foot event space called Georgian Hall.

“We initially needed more meeting and event space to meet the increasing demand for corporate meetings, events and incentive programs at the resort, along with the growth for weddings and other celebrations,” Jervis said. “As we developed the plans and looked at the future of the resort, we recognized the opportunity to increase our guest-room capacity, allowing us to continue to host intimate retreats and board meetings while having the opportunity to book larger groups of up to 150 rooms per night.”

Barnsley has other projects in the pipeline, including a spa renovation, and the completion of its pavillion meeting and event space renovation in May, said Jervis.

Dunaway Gardens, a USDA-certified organic tea farm in the Newnan, Ga., area, has some new ideas, too, said owner Jennifer Bigham through email. “Approximately 15,000 tea plants provide the backdrop for these lush gardens. In the near future, we hope to offer tea tours and tea tastings.”

When gardens offer a variety of experiences, they draw diverse types tourists, Bigham added. “One of the things you have to look at in terms of garden tourism is, there are people who travel to a place specifically to see a garden. Then there are people who travel to a city – New York is a perfect example – and they’ve got theater tickets but they also walk the High Line [a 1.45-mile-long elevated greenway on Manhattan’s west side], because that’s part of what New York offers. They’re there for another reason, but they will incorporate [a garden] into their visit.”

In 2010, the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden had about 200,000 annual visitors. That number has climbed to “more in the neighborhood of 500,000,” said Mary Pat Matheson, its president and CEO.

The city garden’s upcoming programming includes a return of the giant plant-based sculptures in “Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time,” Cocktails in the Garden, a performance by singer Sheryl Crow, and additional concerts both in Atlanta and Gainesville during the summer.

“It’s our job as professionals to think ahead to what people would enjoy,” Matheson said. “We do [programming] all year long.”

Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens include six diverse gardens that capture pictures of times gone by. They are: Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden; Sims Asian Garden; Frank A. Smith’s Memorial Rhododendron Garden; Swan House Gardens; Smith Family Farm Gardens; Swan Woods & Wood Family Cabin; and, under construction, Olguita’s Garden, named for Olga “Olguita” C. de Goizueta. The history center also has on its campus the Cherokee Garden Library, which is open to the public and part of the Kenan Research Center. The library has horticulture books and related material.

“Most people come to gardens to escape, to find a peaceful place, to walk around,” said Sarah Roberts, the History Center’s Olga C. de Goizueta Vice President, Goizueta Gardens and Living Collections.

Dunaway Gardens has a rich history, Bigham added. “This garden speaks of kinder, gentler, quieter times, where you can enjoy tranquility and the gifts of nature.”

After visiting 61 countries and touring their respective public gardens, Gibbs, a landscaping company owner, was inspired to start his own.

During travel to Japan in 1973, he started his plan. “I knew I wanted a rolling topography, a mature forest setting, and to be close to I-575 and Georgia 400, knowing everything was growing to the north,” he said.

In 1980, he bought 220 acres of land and, once his plants had matured, opened Gibbs Gardens in 2012.

Gibbs said patrons are after certain experiences when they visit gardens, and the metro area’s garden attractions do not disappoint. “People want to see a beautiful garden that’s well maintained,” he said. “They want to be inspired and educated.”

Bigham of Dunaway Gardens agreed. “People are drawn to gardens as an escape from the hustle and bustle of life,” she said. “They provide a place of pleasure and beauty.”


There isn’t much information about the economic impact of garden tourism on a local or national level. Carol Cowan, manager of the North American Garden Tourism Conference, and director of marketing and operations for the Canadian Garden Council, cited information on the industry from Richard Benfield’s book, “Garden Tourism (CABI, June 2013):” In any given year, more people visit public gardens in America (78 million) than go to Disneyland (11 million) and Disneyworld (11 million) combined, or visit Las Vegas (48 million) annually. Cowan also referred to data from the American Bus Association, the trade association for motorcoach operators and tour companies in the US and Canada: 66 percent of people are more apt to take a bus tour if a garden or gardens is on the itinerary.

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Some notable gardens in the area include:

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Incorporated in 1976Named one of the Top 10 Best Botanical Gardens in the Country by USA TodayCanopy Walk, Edible Garden and Cascades Garden opened in 2010

Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens

Currently has six gardens; a seventh is under constructionFeatures native plantingsRepresents how gardens looked according to the time period

Barnsley Resort

More than 3,000 acres Recently opened a new 55-room inn and 9,000-square-foot event space called Georgian HallProperty includes a spa and other amenities

Callaway Resort & Gardens

Opened in 19522,500 acresEvents include butterfly releases, birds of prey shows, concerts

Dunaway Gardens

On the National Register of Historic PlacesEstablished by stage actress Hetty Jane Dunaway and first opened in 1934 “as a theatrical training ground for some of the country’s most beloved stage performances.” Restoration began in 2000 under owner Jennifer Bigham. The gardens reopened in 2005.

Gibbs Gardens

Founded, designed and developed by Jim Gibbs, retired president and founder of Gibbs Landscape Co.Located in Ball GroundEvents include live music, festivals and presentations

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia

Opened in 1968 313 acresAttracts more than 230,000 visitors a year

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