Special event plant sales at public gardens
Williams, Kevin Philip
University of Delaware
Special event plant sales can be considered ubiquitous within the world of public horticulture. Commonly recognized as spring or fall events, special event plant sales can be powerful institutional tools for fundraising, friend-raising, education, public awareness, environmental stewardship, and community engagement. They can provide a unique, tax-free, revenue-generating opportunity for public gardens, and if properly designed, can be used to communicate and connect the public to an institution's mission. Using surveys, this research aimed to establish baseline quantitative data on the metrics of special event plant sales including analysis of trends in gross and net revenues, plant sourcing, selection, location, duration, organization and leadership, and volunteer involvement. Furthermore, qualitative research through case studies and expert interviews, examined successful, novel, and exceptional practices of plant sales. Differing institutional intentions were analyzed, including the limitations of the predominant goal of fundraising, and the widely recognized, but under-embraced goal of community engagement. The perceived institutional value of holding plant sales was also explored, revealing a contradictory culture; there is a recognized importance in holding plant sales, but a lack of cultivation of a staff environment that internalizes this importance. This research led to the development of a set of recommendations for public gardens that will help guide the planning and execution of plant sales, the principles of which have further applications in relevant outreach activities and special events. For example, qualitative and quantitative data revealed the importance of incentivizing plant sales for institutional members; 77% of survey participants reported that their plant sales increased or sustained membership, and many reported large percentages of gross revenues generated on members' only sale days. Encouragingly, 72% of respondents offer some form of presale to members, patrons, or donors of their institutions. However, only 58% of institutions offer discounts for their members, limiting the potential for member attendance beyond the presale. This research also suggested that institutions benefited when they developed sponsorships and partnerships with outside organizations for their plant sales. Despite that, 75% of respondents reported that they do not partner with any other organizations for their plant sales, and 70% reported that they do not have any sponsors for their plant sales. Fundamentally, this research examined the current state of special event plant sales in public gardens and outlines the successful practices of industry leaders. Through institutional alignment and intentionality, plant sales have the potential to be, at best, a profitable, coalescent demonstration of a public garden's mission and values.