From Longwood to Winterthur, Philly area gardens drive $256M in economic impact

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The award-winning orchid curtain in the Exhibition Hall at Longwood Gardens' 2015 Orchid Extravaganza.

While the economic impact of the Philadelphia Flower Show is self-evident to anyone near the packed Pennsylvania Convention Center, a new report shows the green-thumb movement also showers the region with significant greenbacks.

Surveying the 30-plus public gardens, arboretums, historical landscapes, and support groups that comprise Greater Philadelphia Gardens, consulting firm Econsult Solutions added up the digits and found an economic impact of $256 million a year, a big boon for the tourism industry. It provides the evidence base for the group's moniker for the region: “America’s Garden Capital.”

Spanning an 11-county area in a 30-mile radius, the nature sites attract an estimated 2.5 million visitors annually. That’s on par with the Liberty Bell (2.2 million visitors) and Valley Forge National Historical Park (2.1 million visitors), according to Philadelphia-based Econsult. 

Almost 30 percent of these flora and fauna lovers self-identify as “out-of-towners, having driven more than an hour to get to the destinations. And two-thirds of them then stay over, spending an average of $145 a day on food, accommodations, and other expenses, in addition to what they spend at the gardens.

The study suggests that garden visitors tend to be of higher income and education compared with the general population, representing “a highly valuable demographic” that “impacts broadly across the tourism sector.”

Public gardens also grow jobs -- employing more than 1,500 people with total earnings of $79 million -- and generate $3.6 million annually in business, sales, and income tax revenue for the state, the study found.

Capital investments enhancing the facilities have also been significant of late. In the last three years, GPC members have spent about $116 million on construction projects, with the well-endowed Longwood Gardens leading the way. Its “New Heights: The Fountain Revitalization Project” set for completion this spring replaces 83-year-old fountains and adds splashy water choreography.

Other recent projects include the renovation of the main house at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and additions to West Philadelphia’s treasured Bartram’s Garden, including the new Ann Bartram Garden and a mile-long hiking trail. This project spending sends financial “ripples” through many sectors, the report notes, from architectural and engineering firms to transport and disposal services.

Other major area gardens include Chanticleer, Shofuso Japanese House & Garden, Tyler Arboretum, Meadowbrook Farm, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, and the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.   

The Econsult Solutions report also cites an eye-opening neighborly effect -- a finding (from 2010) that $16.3 billion has been added to the value of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s housing stock from protected open space nearby. 

“In addition to inspiring and relaxing us, there’s a real economic role for our region’s public gardens," said Matt Rader, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. "This study shows how public gardens create jobs, support local businesses, influence property values, and contribute to overall economic development. Their value cannot be underestimated.”

“Each year, public gardens continue to grow their visitation and audience base,” noted Casey Sclar, executive director of the American Public Gardens Association, representing more than 400 public gardens across the country. “Greater Philadelphia Gardens is an ideal model of a gardens collaborative, and the findings of this study will help other gardens to demonstrate their value."

The full report is available at americasgardencapital.org/economic-impact