Innovative gardens can thrive

There can be few roles in horticulture whose skills needs have changed more in the past decade than head gardeners - and most particularly those working in gardens open to the public.

As we noted in a special report on training and skills in the sector last year, (HW, 25 November 2011), education of not just team members, but the growing army of volunteers, has become a core function for many with adverts for senior roles frequently citing skills in public education and engagement as a requirement for the job.

One leading gardens manager at the time told us: "I came into horticulture because I was interested in plants and it seemed a great way to avoid people and paper. But I've evolved with my position into totally the opposite. Head gardeners, need customer care skills. We are a visitor attraction and we have to engage with people - you can't hide in the bushes these days."

After what the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions describes as one of the toughest years for leisure attractions since foot-and-mouth in 2001, we can now add product development - and the ability to engage in some seriously creative thinking - to the skill set, as garden attractions battle to recoup weather-hit revenues.

The best news, as our report in this issue uncovers, is that there are plenty of good ideas out there that are being trialled by the most proactive gardens, from events designed to build repeat visitors, promotion of local produce to boost revenues, social networking to reach new audiences - and even the installation of webcams to present a better picture of the weather than the Met Office to prospective visitors.

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