WATCH | Pandemic, or rain, can’t slow growth at botanical garden

Esteban Ruiz trims the grass near the welcome center at Garvan Woodland Gardens. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record
Esteban Ruiz trims the grass near the welcome center at Garvan Woodland Gardens. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to close across the country, botanical gardens seemed to thrive thanks to the safety protocols, including Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Garvan's guest attendance actually increased during the pandemic, and it hasn't shown signs of slowing down since, Kristin Mangham, the garden's marketing director, said.

In 2022, the botanical garden had a record-breaking attendance with more than 200,000 guests, and is on track to break that record this year, she said in an email to The Sentinel-Record.

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"Our attendance has been really strong, and in comparison to last year, we're tracking right along with similar numbers," Becca Ohman, garden director, said. "Despite the rain that we've all experienced in our area, the garden continues to grow, and the people continue to come and enjoy its beauty."

The recent rain has actually benefited the garden and the thousands of annual plants the staff is currently installing, Ohman said.

"So, a major transition is happening from our spring tulip festival and preparing for our big summer displays," she said. "So, it's a great time to have good rain."

Not only have the number of guests visiting the garden increased over the past few years, but the number of memberships has also been increasing. Garvan has even gained members not only locally, but also "from all over," Mangham said.

The garden implemented online membership recently, making it even more convenient for visitors from out of town to purchase tickets or memberships by visiting http://www.garvangardens.org.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children between 4 and 12 if purchased online, but are $22 for adults and $12 for children if purchased at the gate, Mangham said.

The staff is also beginning to "revamp" areas in the children's garden, work on new horticultural displays and plan on opening a sensory garden to host a variety of annuals, vegetables, herbs, and trailing and climbing plants, Ohman said.

"We've been really blessed with an incredible team," she said. "We've been able to grow our team in the past year, I think, of being in operation and have seen really incredible new employees come in to supplement the ones that have been here for so long. And it's been an incredible team effort to bring new garden ideas, new planting designs, and it's been a great concerted effort to come up with new things for our people to see, as far as our horticultural displays are concerned."

Since the garden opened in 2002, it has grown to include more than 60 employees and more than 200 acres of land. Only 75% of the way finished with the current master plan, the garden has won awards various times, including being named fifth in USA Today's 10 best botanical gardens across the nation for 2023.

"That was really exciting for us," Mangham said.

"We were going through the voting process for that for about a month, and we started out, I think, at 19 on the first day. And it ranged back and forth the whole time, and we ended up at number five in the nation, which is really exciting for us right here in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

"We're not a huge city, not a huge town, but we have a really amazing garden, and it's nice to see that people are recognizing that and that they were just as excited for us and voting for us for that too," she said.

The garden is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day between February and mid-November, when the holiday lights begin and Garvan changes its hours to 4 to 9 p.m., Mangham said. The garden closes only for the month of January and on Christmas Day, she said.

  photo  A small waterfall is loacted on the path toward the welcome center for guests to enjoy at Garvan Woodland Gardens. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record