Strong 2014 visitor numbers boost garden managers

Higher visitor totals in 2014 and a dry, busy winter result in greater positivity among garden managers for the year ahead.

Batsford: 20 per cent increase
Batsford: 20 per cent increase

Garden managers are positive about 2015 on the back of a rise in visitor numbers in 2014 that was followed by a dry, busy winter.

Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller said visitors at the attraction are up by 20 per cent in 2015 and by 50 per cent over Christmas last year. "On Sunday (15 February) we had just under a thousand in," he added. "It's normally a couple of hundred in February. We know the visitors are out there but there is limited money. Lack of rain helps."

At Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire numbers have gone up by 12,000 to 72,000 - an increase of 20 per cent. Operations director Stuart Priest said 2012 was a "complete washout". He added: "In 2013 we had 60,000. In 2012 and 2013 I was ready to give up, but from the first snowdrops 2014 was fantastic."

Batsford's offering has been boosted by a new £1.8m building completed in 2011 that includes a cafe with an outside terrace - both "chocka block" said Priest.

Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent has seen its busiest start to the year ever, according to head of gardens and estate Michael Walker: "Since December we've had 65,000 paying visitors to the garden," he added. "To see such growth over the winter has been tremendous."

Walker said one draw was extending opening hours from 8am to 9pm in summer. "We find that we're becoming increasingly busy at all these times," he added.

Royal Botanic Garden (RBG) Edinburgh has also seen a rise across its four gardens, from 775,030 in 2013 to 909,577 in 2014 - up by 134,547 or 17.4 per cent. Dawyck saw a 19.2 per cent rise and Edinburgh 18.5 per cent. Its first Botanic Lights event in November brought 23,000 evening visitors.

RBG Edinburgh representative Helen Jackson said: "We had a great winter for outdoor activities. We had a change in our marketing, Dawyck Hydro opened in May, which very much helped our green credentials, and we had the lights event, which was a resounding success. We've come a long way in just one year. We need to keep the momentum going. We're working towards £1m incrementally over the next five years."

The National Trust has not released visitor figures for 2014 but head of parks and gardens Mike Calnan said they were up on 2013. "We've had about 20 million visitors to our pay-for-entry properties," he added. "Gardens like ours have become de facto parks - where people used to walk to their local parks, they are jumping in their cars and driving to trust gardens."

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