Denver Public Garden Shoots to Top of Visitor List

By Donna Bryson, Associated Press

Denver Botanic Gardens had more visitors last year than any other public garden in North America, edging out the Washington, D.C., attraction that usually tops the list.

Denver gardens CEO Brian Vogt credited a popular show by contemporary glass artist Dale Chihuly and the opening of a science exhibit. He has also seen increasing response to projects to help Denver’s urban residents grow and find fresh food.

Those elements and good weather resulted in more than 1.4 million visitors, substantially up from the previous record of 879,000 set in 2013, Vogt said. The Directors of Large Gardens top 10 list released recently put the United States Botanic Garden second with nearly 1.3 million visitors and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, third with just over 1.1 million. Well-known gardens in the top 10 included No. 8 New York with 900,000 visitors and No. 10 Brooklyn with just over 800,000.

Devin Dotson, spokesman for the U.S. Botanic Garden, said that with its prime location near the Capitol, his garden is accustomed to being at the top of the list with around 1.3 million visitors every year. But he wasn’t resentful at losing out last year to Denver, which he visited himself to see the Chihuly.

“That was awesome,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens executive director Paul Redman, like Vogt in Denver, cited good weather and imaginative programming for his attendance figures. Redman, who said his visitor numbers have been increasing steadily for the past half dozen years, also said people in the 20- to 48-year-old age group were connecting with the mission of his and similar gardens because “they are so in tune right now to anything green: the environment, being outdoors.”

Abby Spencer, director of marketing and outreach for the American Public Gardens Association, is seeing a trend of gardens combining traditional horticultural attractions with art shows, concerts and science exhibitions.

“People are coming more and more to public gardens,” she said, adding that such gardens nationally average an annual 75 million visitors…