Barbara Landsberg designed garden
Other people's gardens

Garden visiting

Here’s a quick quiz. In any given year do more people in the US visit Las Vegas or a garden? Gambling or gardens: no question, gardens win by a mile. In fact more people are involved in garden tourism in the US each year than visit Las Vegas and Disneyworld, combined. The man who has the figures is Richard Benfield, who literally wrote the book on garden tourism. It’s called Garden Tourism and in it he ponders why figures on garden tourism are not routinely collected, considering it has the highest revenue of any tourism activity in the US. He reckons garden viewing is like a secret activity, an underground passion.

The gambling or gardens question is a critical one for Andrew and Deidre Mowat who are betting that we love visiting gardens enough to make their new website, My Open Garden, a hit. “We were surprised when Open Garden Australia shut up shop,” says Andrew Mowat, IT specialist and under-gardener to wife, gardener and iGarden blogger Deidre. “We thought someone should step into the breach and make a simple arrangement for gardeners to open their garden and for visitors to find a garden open.” So they did.


The Water Gardens at Mayfield Gardens, Oberon, are open every day.

The Water Gardens at Mayfield Gardens, Oberon, are open every day.

Mowat scoured the internet, magazines and the OGA guidebook, and sent out 500 letters inviting garden owners to list on the My Open Garden site. He admits the timing – just before Christmas – wasn’t ideal, so is pleased that more than 70 garden owners are currently in the process of updating their profiles, while several thousand people have registered to have access to the listings on the site.

This privately owned garden in Tasmania is open occasionally.

This privately owned garden in Tasmania is open occasionally.

Garden owners can list their own gardens on My Open Garden. If you’re interested, the fee to list is $230, and insurance is not the problem you might imagine. A different kind of garden viewing is offered by Hidden. Where My Open Garden is owners opening their own gardens, Hidden features gardens opened by the professionals who designed them. In its launch in April last year, a thousand people snaffled the tickets to enter 21 gardens across the city. (I wrote about some of the gardens that were open. ) This year the event is on the weekend of March 14-15, avoiding the squish of Easter and Anzac Day, while coinciding with the late-summer fullness of Sydney gardens at their best. Hidden founder Catherine Stewart promises more inner city gardens this year, though the turnover of Sydney real estate poses problems. It seems that homeowners, especially in the hot property inner west, are having gardens designed 12 months before they aim to sell the house. One leading designer reckons that two-thirds of his gardens are in properties sold within the first year of being planted.

Undeterred, Hidden will find at least 18 top quality gardens that Sydney garden designers have convinced their clients to open. Tickets will be on sale from mid-January. Don’t procrastinate.

The garden featured at the top of this post was open for Hidden last year. It’s designed by Barbara Landsberg. What about that weather!  The other two gardens are on my Tastings tours itineraries, and were highlights on last year’s trips.


4 thoughts on “Garden visiting

  1. Paul Morgan says:

    Hi Robin
    Excellent news that the Open Gardens Australia is to be replaced. I was a great user of the scheme when it first set up in Victoria in the 80s and again in the mid 90s when I first arrived in Sydney and needed to look at what local gardeners were doing to manage the climate and soil here. I also wanted to see how to manage the humidy and salt winds of the coastal environment, as I live 500 metres from the beach. Unfortunately seaside gardens did not feature often in the Open Garden scheme. It seems that gardening has too many competing outdoor activities to be a popular passtime in these coastal locations. I had to learn how to manage the coastal location by trial and lots of error. However, the Open Garden scheme was a great assistance to me in adapting to Sydney’s garden environment, and I was inspired by many of the gardens I saw and gardeners I met and incorporated many of their ideas and practices into my own garden.
    I was hoping for a similar level of inspiration at the Hidden festival last year with so many gardens to visit on the one day. . There were a couple of gardens with some interesting ideas that I really liked, but overall I was disappointed with what was on offer. Hidden was very much a celebration of the garden as a product rather than a process. Most of the gardens were very recent. There was no narrative about the gardens’ or gardeners’ journey through time, only of the design process and the materials and resources required to set up the garden. Speaking as a former landscaper and garden designer myself, I believe these aspects are important, but they are only part of the picture. I liked the Open Garden scheme because it tended much more to offer us gardener’s gardens rather than landscape designer’s gardens. And it was interesting to read in your article that it is hard to find professionally designed gardens available for display, because the properties have been sold by those who commissioned them. These gardens appear to be seen as expensive accessories to the house essential for marketing purposes, or as showy entertainment areas to impress the guests, rather than a place to connect with nature in a creative way.
    I expect that it sometimes must be quite challenging to find something different to write about in your column each week. However, I have so far found I enjoyed your column in the SMH because it has stepped away from the widespread practice of reviewing the Chelsea Flower Show and gardens by celebrity designers and breathlessly reporting the latest new ‘designer’ plants from the industry and given us the stories of gardens, gardeners and gardening as a practice as well as cultivation information about old plants such as hydrangeas and Queen of the Night that have dropped out of fashion. But apparently my queen of the night must be a different variety, because it is perhaps the most frustrating plant in my garden. Although it is repeat flowering, it is not a night after night event. I watch excitedly for days as the buds swell towards bloom and inevitably on the night of nights I am out for the evening, or with the business of the day carrying on into the night, I simply forget, until I see the wilted remains of last night’s flowers dangling sadly at the end of the deck as I do the morning water. ‘Damn! I missed it again!’ I think in the six years I have had it in the garden I have witnessed the flowers four times. However, the rarity of the experience only adds to the exquisite pleasure of this truly named floral masterpiece, and I feel extremely fortunate to have seen it on those four occassions.
    Keep up your good writing.

  2. Jo Wilkins says:

    As someone who has opened their garden several times under the old scheme, this new business venture doesn’t impress. I don’t mean to sound harsh, really I don’t. But taking all the intellectual capital from the OGA scheme, recycling it like a brand new product, then charge $230 for owners to have a ‘basic listing’. It appears to be a lot like vanity publishing – just give us the money and your garden’s listed.

    • Robin Powell says:

      Thanks for your garden owner perspective Jo. From a garden visitor’s perspective I hope the site takes off because it will make it easier for me to find a garden to visit when I find myself with a free Sunday, or (coming soon) a plan to head up to the mountains to buy some apples. I don’t begrudge the Mowats charging for the time and expense in setting up the site, and am happy for garden owners to recoup that out of entry fees. Are you still planning to open your garden outside of OGA?

      • Jo Wilkins says:

        Hi Robin, I would like to open the garden again in the future. There’s just nothing that appeals about using ‘my opengarden’ as a mechanism to do so. Am I doing it an injustice in saying that it offers not much more than a listing on their website for that $230?
        I couldn’t see how or where that information would be promoted.

        It might be great, good luck to them for seizing the opportunity with the demise of OGA. There are so many time and financial costs in opening a garden to the public that paying for the privilege seems very unappealing.

        Happy apple picking!

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