Public gardens form unique collaboration

Some of the largest and most prestigious public gardens, including Blenheim Palace and the Eden Project, have been brought together by Candide, the popular gardening app, in a unique online collaboration with smaller independent gardens, to share advice, support and help through the difficulties of the pandemic.

Since Lockdown began in March, large and small independent public gardens have been struggling to stay afloat, with many having to furlough their gardeners and support staff as well as losing considerable revenue from caps on ticket sales, closure of gift shops and cafés.

In a report in May 2019, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee estimated that during 2019 some £2.9 billion was generated through garden visits in the UK, with one in three overseas tourists visiting a garden or park so we can see the extent of the loss.

Even after the reopening of gardens was granted in June, many were concerned about how they could open profitably with reduced staff while ensuring they still conformed with necessary social distancing and safety requirements.

Candide, which already provided contactless ticketing solutions for The Newt in Somerset, decided to donate the services of its Gardens Team to offer technical solutions to help gardens safely and securely reopen during the continuing pandemic.

They contacted 500 independent gardens including some of the UK’s most significant visitor attractions, inviting them to join a gardens’ webinar roundtable event. This enabled garden managers and owners to share their concerns and discuss issues ranging from contactless ticketing to social distancing.

It was an incredibly collaborative experience,” said David Green, Head of Innovation at Blenheim Palace: “So many independent gardens have struggled during Lockdown with visitor numbers dramatically reduced. It was wonderful to see how independent gardens large and small, got together in this unique way. We were delighted to be part of this and to be able to share our plans with some of the smaller gardens on how we were going to operate under new social distancing guidelines. We were one of the first public gardens to reopen, and we are lucky to have a large team to help make this happen. We are delighted to be welcoming visitors back into our gardens as it is clear how important green space has been in supporting their mental health through the pandemic.”

Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, which usually receives over 15k visitors a year, generously shared its entire opening strategy and resources during one of the webinars, to help others with their reopening preparations. Candide extended its online ticketing service to all private gardens free of charge with the further benefit that the ticketing system also provided real-time information on the numbers of visitors in the garden at any one time. The collaboration has been so successful that since May, gardens using the online booking system have sold over 30,000 tickets.

Kathy Brown, of Kathy Brown’s Garden, The Manor House, Stevington, (pictured above with husband Simon) admitted that they were complete technophobes before this experience: “Candide’s very patient team helped us through the set up and now we have completely embraced the new technology. It has made it possible for us to open successfully and welcome visitors back while meeting all the government guidelines,” explains Kathy. “What is also interesting is that our visitor age has come down dramatically over this period. Originally our visitor average age would have been around 70 years and now it is much nearer 30 years old, which is wonderful to see,” she added.(pictured right below, a corner of Kathy’s delightful garden.)

The system offers flexibility and gives owners the contact details of those in the advance booking so when something unforeseen happens, such as a deluge of rain in Kathy’s case, they were able to ask people to postpone their visit to another date.

Andrew Philbrick, Candide’s CEO is delighted with the collaborative approach of the gardens: “We quickly recognised that public gardens were going to be badly affected during Lockdown and decided to bring them together to share their knowledge and advice. We then worked on developing a free ticketing solution for gardens to open contact-free. We ensured it was as simple as possible to set up without the need for any software downloads and helped the gardens launch the systems. We are also providing online marketing help for those involved with videos showcasing some of the most beautiful gardens across the country,” he said.

Candide is based in Bristol and since its inception in 2017 has seen the organisation grow to a team of 60, germinating the first genuinely global gardening ecosystem to an audience of over 350,000 members. The app is one of the most useful tools in a gardener’s pocket.

We wish this innovative collaboration every success in the future especially in these difficult times.

Picture credits: ©Candide