When telling tales pays

There are two messages that leap out from the latest Association of Leading Visitor Attractions data which show an overall 3.5 per cent increase in garden visits for 2015 - with many gardens achieving much more. First, there's nothing like a great story to drive visitor numbers. Second, today's garden customers want to get stuck in.

In 2015 the National Trust's Bodnant Garden saw visitor numbers enjoy a double-digit percentage increase for the third year running, climbing 15.2 per cent to 225,346. Bodnant has been following a long-term programme of development - the latest being the 4.2ha Far End garden - drawing repeat visitors throughout the year.

But the garden's success is not solely about investment. General manager William Greenwood points out that much of it comes from responding to customer feedback. Specifically, the visitors want "less to look at things" and more "to become involved in the garden - in learning and seeing and doing and touching." During scarification, for example, this has meant leaving out rakes and wheelbarrows to let visitors give the team a hand. "It's their garden. They can get involved," says Greenwood.

Meanwhile, the team at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was quick to maximise the potential of the first known flowering in Scotland of Amorphophallus titanum in 2015. The team worked quickly to have staff on hand who could talk about the plant and its unique qualities. Information was shared with visitors queuing to see it, making the queue part of the experience. The plant even had its own twitter account - @TitanArumRBGE - that kept its "followers" updated with daily news during its flowering. The result: paying glasshouse visitors jumped from 7,000 in June 2014 to 19,000 in June 2015.


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