Discover Scottish Gardens works with more than 400 gardens, estates and nurseries across the country, some of them historic landmarks, others family-run ventures but all of them an important part of Scotland’s cultural and natural heritage.
For many of these businesses the last two years has seen them responding to the changing conditions, making updates and improvements at a pace that couldn’t have been foreseen pre-Covid. Some of the smallest have moved to on-line ticketing and bookings; others have produced video footage to showcase what’s on offer and others still have looked afresh at the customer experience, creating outdoor walking trails or play areas for the increasing numbers of children who have been coming through the gates.
The aim of Discover Scottish Gardens is to raise awareness of the outstanding gardens that exist in Scotland, many of them curators of important plant collections and often at the forefront of combating climate change. Scotland is home to an exceptional collection of world-class gardens and they are increasingly being recognised for the part they play in attracting tourists and supporting local economies in rural and remote areas.
This winter DSG is being supported by VisitScotland to keep the momentum going and to provide space for exercise and fresh air, regardless of the weather and so we have enhanced the search facility on our website so that the public can plan days out in advance, discovering what’s open, where disabled access or cafe facilities are available and if dogs are welcome.
At Attadale in Wester Ross this has been our busiest year on record and the absence of foreign visitors has been more than offset by the numbers of domestic tourists who have been enjoying the plants and trees and the open green spaces. During the Pandemic our visitor profile changed almost overnight as a whole new generation of people discovered the joy of having closer contact with nature and of seeing their children marvel at damselflies, encounter frogs and snails and feel the rough bark of trees.
And it is the same story around the country. At St Andrews Botanic Garden families have been meeting up outdoors to spend time together in a safe way and at the Japanese Garden at Cowden limits had to be placed on daily visitor numbers during the summer in order to maintain the Zen-like atmosphere which is such an important feature of this recently-restored heritage space.
The importance of such places and the benefits they provide to physical and mental health has been highlighted during the fight against Covid and for the army of volunteers that provides support for the professional gardeners and horticulturists who do such an important job of maintaining and developing the gardens, the social contact has been an antidote to isolation.
Scotland’s gardens are one of its greatest assets but they take money, effort and expertise to maintain. More visitors means more money for their maintenance and upkeep, which helps to sustain jobs and safeguard this country’s horticultural heritage.
What the past two years has shown is that these traditional assets have the capacity to modernise and change, to market themselves to a new audience and meet enhanced customer expectations without losing sight of what makes them special.
And what visitors have shown us is that they have a huge appreciation of Scotland’s gardens and an appetite to enjoy them, whatever the weather.
Joanna Macpherson is a director of Discover Scottish Gardens and the owner of Attadale Gardens, which have recently been named Scottish finalist in this year’s RHS Partner Garden of the Year Awards.