Talking up Gardens at the Visitors Bureau

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Most public gardens in DC are little known to locals and never promoted to visitors (in contrast to the super-hyped cherry trees or to be exact, their short-lived blossoms).  And unlike most cities, our large, popular gardens are FREE.  Sadly, they don’t have the funds to let people know they exist.

So I started photographing the major DC-area gardens every month last season and the images and videos are ready to be used to direct more visitors to the gardens.  Some are posted to Flickr, some to Pinterest, and there are dozens of videos, too.  Photos are available free of charge.

The project, called DCGardens.com is getting ready to officially launch its Indiegogo campaign on March 2, so it’s time to get the word to people who can use these digital resources, starting with Destination DC, which is DC’s official convention and tourism bureau. My attempts to speak with anyone there had all failed, but that changed quickly this week when I attended their big open house – 2 hours of schmoozing and handing out of business cards like they were going out of print.

First, imagine the gardenblogger of a certain generation (Baby Boom) mingling and talking biz with young marketers – a 3-story office building full of them, and hundreds of travel-related business reps.  So first I had to do something I rarely do, and at always great pain – buy some clothes.  Like any lady Boomer I headed for Chico’s and was immediately adopted by the (also Boomer) saleswomen, who dressed me for the occasion. (This top with a black jacket and some short leather boots from the Aerosole store.)

For the open house, staffers were stationed near their offices, with overhead signs showing us visitors where to find, say, the International Visitors people.  That was my first stop, where I talked up the popularity of the Arboretum’s Bonsai Museum with Asian visitors.  And who’s in charge of attracting the Brits to DC?  Coz wouldn’t they just love to see our gardens?

At Convention Services I talked up using the gardens-by-month images to show conventioneers what else they could do while they’re here, long after the cherry blossoms have dropped.

Same deal at Visitor Services, which fields calls from visitors all the time asking what to do here.  (That reminds me; how does every single page on the website look on a cell phone? Gotta check.)

I made a beeline to the Website Operations folks and bossily asked them “How about getting some gardens on the website?” An idea that the two young men seemed to love.  So there’s hope that categories of “Things to Do” on the site shown above may include gardens.  I’m prepared to nag if necessary.

Hotels reps were to be found throughout the event, so with them I talked up the nearest garden as a what-to-do suggestion for their guests.  (If people staying at a small hotel near the fabulous Franciscan Monastery now find out about it, they have a Chico’s-dressed gardenblogger to thank.)

The Reactions

So how did these mostly young businesspeople react to the notion that gardens are good for business? Turns out the responses were very similar across departments.  Their faces lit up at the same few spots in my spiel:

  • “Photos by month.” Don’t know if other cities or regions have this problem but in DC it’s assumed that after spring, there’s nothing to see in the gardens.
  • “Free photos.”  That’s always popular and often met with skepticism but here they just reached for my business card.
  • “Videos, too.”
  • “Grassroots. ” That term is so unexpected in the business world (though not in the eco- and gardening worlds I usually network in) that using it here was fun.  And much better than an alternative word – volunteer project – which just conjures up Candystripers and retirees (gawd no!). “Grassroots” helped to explain why DC Gardens doesn’t have offices, or an actual budget.
  • Oh, and name-dropping some media coverage that’s been lined up for the launch of DC Gardens.  Media attention speaks to us all, of course.

And my reaction to going undercover at the visitors bureau to talk up the gardens surprised me most of all – I loved it!  Turning people on to gardens is always fun but especially when they’re young, apartment-dwelling businesspeople.

Adding to the fun was my photographer pal Steve Brown, who took me to the open house as his guest.  He was there talking up his popular photo books (about the WWII Memorial and all of DC) and together, we raised the average age of attendees just a tad.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on February 13, 2015 at 8:22 am, in the category Public Gardens.

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1 Comment

  1. 18th April 2016 at 3:46 pm —

    Thank you for doing this, Susan. We have so many wonderful gardens here that Washington, DC can (and should) be a horticultural destination.

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Talking up Gardens at the Visitors Bureau