Why garden tourism is the hottest new travel trend

Garden tourism has grown to become a global phenomenon. Here’s why you simply must stop and smell the roses (and all the other flowers).

A statue in the middle of a garden
  • Emma Castle
  • February 2020

Famed English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks may have been the original garden tourist but in the 21st century, it’s not only botanists who are enjoying exploring the flora. From millennials who want to learn more about sustainability, to leisure travellers eager to bathe in nature, garden tourism has never been trendier.

According to international researcher Richard Benfield, garden tourism is the second largest tourism sector after food tourism, with a third of tourists globally including at least one garden visit in their travel itinerary. While Europe, the UK and the US are no strangers to the concept, Australia is not far behind. In fact, the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is one of the world’s most visited botanic gardens, with more than five million visitors every year.

Jimmy Turner, Director of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney says, “It’s popular because it’s a free site that is right next to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. You can get a glimpse into the natural wilderness of the country you are visiting, including rare and threatened plants, which is very different to the man-made built environment of a city.”

A girl walking through gardens with water in the background
Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens is beautiful in its own right but also offers views of the Harbour Bridge.

According to travel researcher Bronwyn White from New Young Consulting, “Gardens in any city or town tell a great story and, in a way, are the unofficial pulse of a place. There are often old gardens with a focus on the local native fauna of the area, statues that show the history and tell the story of the place and local heroes. And it also helps people focus on health, fitness and walking.”

It doesn’t hurt that features such as the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Calyx – which includes the largest interior living wall in the Southern Hemisphere – are Instagram catnip. According to Instagram, “photographic trophies” are a big trend. Case in point: Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers in Queensland became one of Australia’s highest-trending hashtags in September 2019, thanks to events such as their floral crown-making workshops.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show is even giving the iconic Chelsea Flower Show in the UK a run for its money in terms of visitor numbers, welcoming more than 103,000 people in 2019 (Chelsea sees an average of 157,000 visitors annually). Not bad for a festival that only started in 1995.

Canberra’s Floriade is another star attraction and from September 2022, Australia is set to host Australis, the southern hemisphere’s first six-month International Garden Expo in Sydney Olympic Park. The event, dubbed the “greenest games ever”, will see more than 40 countries exhibit and compete.

But you don’t have to wait for a festival. From Victorian-style state-owned botanic gardens to privately owned gardens, most of Australia’s green spots are open year round, offering unique experiences in different seasons. And travellers can’t seem to get enough of them.

Try Paronella Park opens in new window in Mena Creek, Qld, where, in 1935, Spanish sugar cane farmer José Paronella created a tropical paradise next to Mena Creek Falls. (The five-hectare garden has a castle, a picnic area, tennis courts, bridges, a tunnel and a hydro-electric station.) Or Cruden Farm opens in new window in Langwarrin, Vic, the former home of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, mother of Rupert, where you will find a “picking” area of roses and lavender hedges, a sunken walled garden and a landscaped pond with sweeping willows. And then there’s Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden opens in new window in Lavender Bay, NSW, where the widow of artist Brett Whiteley, took derelict railway land at the back of her house in Sydney and turned it into a tropical jungle. Bloomin’ marvellous!

A large tree overlooking a house in Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden in Lavender Bay, Sydney.
Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden is a green oasis in the heart of Sydney city

If you fancy a spot of afternoon tea with your garden tourism, head to Mole Creek in Tasmania, for The Garden at Old WesleyDale. Set adjacent to an historic Georgian house and a bookable stone holiday cottage, Old WesleyDale is the perfect spot for high tea.